NOAA Offers Electronic Field Guide To Harmful Algal Blooms In Great Lakes

A new Web site, created by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Center of Excellence for Great Lakes and Human Health (CEGLHH), serves as an electronic field guide to the types, locations and habits of harmful algal blooms in the Great Lakes.

"This is another way that NOAA can protect and monitor our water resources, while better understanding the effect of environmental factors on human health and well-being, and provide products that citizens can use," said retired Navy Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr., Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. "Armed with this information, residents and visitors can make better decisions this summer when they use the beaches for recreational purposes."

Algae are microscopic plant-like organisms that live in water. When certain conditions are present, such as high nutrient or light levels, these organisms can reproduce rapidly, producing what is called a bloom. A harmful algal bloom contains toxins, other noxious chemicals or pathogens, which can cause the death of nearby fish, foul coastlines and produce harmful conditions for marine life and humans.

The new site ( provides public access to screening data generated by NOAA's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (which houses CEGLHH) research on algae blooms and places these data in the context of international public health guidelines. The focus of this research project is to determine the factors controlling microcystin production and to develop methods for determining the location and extent of blooms from satellite imagery. A Frequently Asked Questions section provides information in easy-to-understand language. Suggestions are also offered on ways to keep individuals and their pets or livestock safe.

"These data are primarily for our research work into the dynamics of algal blooms in the Great Lakes," said Stephen Brandt, director of NOAA's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory and the Center for Human Health and the Great Lakes. "But we also thought that it would be helpful to make these data available to the public so they can make decisions."

The data come from a project that will be taking samples this summer from Bear Lake and Muskegon Lake on Michigan's west coast, Saginaw Bay on Lake Huron, and western Lake Erie. Using satellite images, scientists can see a "probable bloom" and send a sampling team to that area.

The Center for the Great Lakes and Human Health uses a multi-disciplinary approach to understand and forecast coastal-related human health impacts for natural resource and public policy decision-making.

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.

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