Building a Harmful Algal Bloom Early Warning System


A harmful algal bloom in Lake Erie

environmental sample processor going underwaterThanks to the Ocean Technology Transition (OTT) project, a federal program designed to speed technology from research and development into operation, western Lake Erie will soon have a better way to anticipate harmful algal blooms (HABs). As residents of the region know well, this can mean keeping toxic microcystin out of municipal water supplies. In 2018, GLOS kicked off work developing an early warning system that utilizes environmental sample processors (ESPs) to monitor water conditions and relay this data to water managers in near real time.

Enabled by a $2.1 million grant, this early warning system will help to address what is increasingly becoming a global health and safety concern. In Lake Erie, HABs begin as nutrient-rich water from rivers like the Maumee drain into the warm waters of of the lake triggering the growth of a type of blue-green algae that creates a toxin called microcystin. In 2014, such a HAB caused the microcystin levels in Toledo tap water to exceed what is recommended by the World Health Organization, triggering a two-day “Do Not Drink” advisory.

Equipped with live data from ESPs positioned throughout areas of concern, western Lake Erie water managers will be able to anticipate outbreaks of harmful algae and react accordingly to ensure that toxic water never makes to people’s taps. In addition, this project will also integrate this data into GLOS’ Lake Erie HABS Data Portal, allowing wider access to this crucial dataset.

Photos: Satellite imagery captured on Aug. 1, 2014 shows the harmful algal bloom that caused a two-day shutdown of Toledo’s municipal water supply. NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE/EOSDIS MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC | GLERL’s ESP Niagara is submerged during a test deployment in June of 2016. Courtesy of NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.


Additional partners include University of Toledo, Heidelberg University, Bowling Green University, U.S. Geological Survey Great Lakes Science Center, National Weather Service, Environmental Protection Agency, City of Toledo Drinking Water Treatment Plant, City of Cleveland Drinking Water Treatment Plants, and other Lake Erie drinking water treatment plants.


Funding for this project has been provided by the U.S. IOOS Ocean Technology Transition Project. This national project sponsors the transition of emerging marine observing technologies, for which there is an existing operational requirement and a demonstrated commitment to integration and use by the ocean and Great Lakes observing community, to operational mode.

Project Contacts

Becky Pearson,

John Bratton,

Interested in this project? Get project updates by subscribing to stakeholder email list. Contact Becky Pearson.