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Specific Objectives

The MERHAB-LGL project is focused on three lakes, Lake Erie, Lake Ontario and Lake Champlain. Each lake has their own specific working group and objectives. In support of the three field programs are working groups for toxin analysis, remote sensing, hydrodynamic modeling and public outreach.

The individual objectives for the different working groups are summarized below:

  1. Lake Erie Working Group (project manager Wilhelm)

    Both the western and eastern basins of Lake Erie have shown an increasing occurrence in toxic Microcystis over the last decade. The focus on this working group will be:

    • To investigate the spatial distribution of toxic Microcystis in Lake Erie
    • To evaluate the chemical diversity of microcystin(s) produced in situ, especially as it affects the different assays for MCs.
    • To evaluate the use of molecular markers for microcystin biosynthesis as monitoring tools for toxigenic species.
    • To evaluate the use of nutritional probes for iron, nitrogen and phosphorus as predictors for toxic cyanobacterial blooms and/or conditions likely to lead to such blooms.
  2. Lake Champlain Working Group (project manager Watzin)

    In recent years, Lake Champlain has suffered from combined microcystin and anatoxin-a outbreaks. The focus of this working group will be:

    • Investigate the occurrence of anatoxin-a and microcystins in Lake Champlain, including the identification of the species responsible for toxin formation in this system.
    • To examine the correlation between blue-green algal density and toxin production.
    • To calibration and validate a rapid assay for anatoxin-a.
    • To evaluate cyanotoxin screening protocols for potential use by water treatment operators.
    • To develop training programs for water quality managers (joint with education).
    • To investigate the potential of using surrogate monitoring systems (mussel watch) as a monitoring tool for cyanobacteria toxins (also with Lake Ontario).
  3. Lake Ontario Working Group (project managers Boyer and Makarewicz)

    In contrast to Lake Erie and Lake Champlain, Lake Ontario's deeper basin and oligotrophic nature results in much lower mid-lake phytoplankton densities. However, the surrounding embayments are highly productive and extensively eutrophied. This group will focus on the role these embayments play as sources of toxins to the open waters. Specific objectives include:

    • To investigate the occurrence of toxic cyanobacteria in the Lake Ontario's embayments.
    • To investigate these embayments as a source of cyanobacteria and toxins to the open waters.
    • To investigate if Lake Ontario is a source of cyanobacteria toxins to the St. Lawrence River.
  4. Toxin Analysis Working Group (project manager Boyer)

    Because of the large number of different toxins that could potentially be present in these systems, we will establish a centralized toxin analysis facility to provide analytical support for all three working groups (task 4a). In addition, this working group has the following tasks:

    • To provide toxin analysis for all lakes, either in the form of direct analysis, or indirect support in the form of quality control and validation.
    • To develop a uniform analytical approach that is suitable for all major cyanobacteria toxins.
    • To evaluate the role of semi-qualitative field assays in a monitoring program.
    • To establish a rapid response team and protocols that can determine the presence or absence of toxigenic cyanobacteria in real time in response to potential HABs.
  5. Remote Sensing Working Group (project manager Sultan)

    Remote sensing can help guide field sampling to make it more efficient and effective. In addition, remote sensing can effectively generalize sample data over space and time, rapidly determining the extent and intensity of blooms, and monitor temporal changes. To support the monitoring programs described above, the remote sensing working group will provide the following:

    • To provide information on the occurrence/movement of phytoplankton blooms in the LGLR.
    • To apply new remote sensing platforms to the occurrence of toxic cyanobacteria blooms.
  6. Hydrodynamic Modeling Working Group (project manager Atkinson)

    Hydrodynamic modeling will allow us to predict both where a bloom has originated as well as where is will move to in the future. Both are essential components of any HAB forcasting system. This working will develop a transport modeling capability that can be used to predict the movement of an algal bloom in a lake. Our end goal is to develop a website where, once a bloom has been identified, a user could specify the bloom location at a known point in time and run the model (combined POM and particle tracking) to predict the bloom trajectory over a given interval. Specific objectives include:

    • To refine the Prinction Oceanography model (POM) for Lake Ontario and develop and link it to a particle tracking model.
    • To refine the POM for Lake Erie and develop and link it to a particle tracking model.
    • To develop a POM and particle tracking-type model for Lake Champlain
    • To set up the overall modeling system infrastructure to allow for internet access to these operational models
  7. Education and Public Outreach Working Group (project manager O'Neill + others)

    A key emphasis of this project is to provide accurate information to constituents including the general public, government, and non-government agencies. This outreach program will coordinate with ongoing efforts by New York Sea Grant, the Great Lakes Research Consortium and the Lake Champlain Research Consortium. Specific tasks include:

    • To develop a public awareness program for cyanobacteria toxins in the LGLR
    • To inform and educate local environmental, health, and monitoring agencies of the analytical and predictive capabilities available through this MERHAB program.
    • To provide a central clearing house for information of toxic cyanobacteria and cyanotoxins in the LGLR. Included will be the integration of recent field studies into up to date information on management strategies, detection techniques, health risks, and what is likely to be an appropriate public response.
    • To have a yearly symposium specifically focusing on toxic cyanobacteria in the LGLR.
    • To offer technical workshops on toxin analysis and toxic species identification.
    • To provide research experience for graduate and undergraduate students.