Lake Superior researcher helps communities better understand harmful algal blooms

Do blooms also like it cold? Lake Superior researcher and international team of scientists help communities better understand harmful algal blooms.

Research published in the scientific journal Limnology and Oceanography Letters and led by scientist Dr. Kait Reinl, Research Coordinator at the Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve in Superior, WI, challenges current understandings of harmful algae blooms and may help communities better prepare for them.

Cyanobacterial blooms, also known as harmful algal blooms, are an environmental and public health threat around the globe. Blooms can produce unpleasant tastes and odors, deplete oxygen in water, produce toxins that are harmful to people and animals, and impact water treatment systems. Researchers’ current understanding is that blooms occur largely when water temperatures are warm or hot, but there is evidence that blooms also occur in cold water, including under ice.

The study, called “Blooms also like it cold”, was developed with 27 co-authors through the Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network (GLEON). The research documents wide-ranging cold-water cyanobacterial blooms and identifies physical and biological drivers that may promote blooms under cold conditions.  This is an important step toward understanding the full scope of conditions that could lead to blooms so that communities are better prepared for sustainable lake stewardship now and in the future.

Regarding the importance of the study, Dr. Reinl said “Cyanobacterial blooms are complex and a major challenge. Current thinking regarding blooms is that they like it hot, and in many cases, they do. However, we’ve been seeing more evidence that blooms can also occur when it’s cold. When this happens, we feel blind-sided because it goes against what we’ve previously heard. This paper highlights the need for understanding cold-water cyanobacterial blooms. It is a reminder that lakes can be very active when temperatures cool. This work is a powerful example of coordinated team science and provided a unique opportunity to collaborate with an international group of experts. ”

The paper will be available without cost from Limnology and Oceanography Letters beginning on February 17th at 10am:

The Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve is one of 30 Reserves in the United States. The program is operated by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Extension with leadership from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and based on the UW-Superior campus. The Reserve encompasses over 16,000 acres along the St. Louis River freshwater estuary and is based on Barkers Island in Superior.

Photo caption and credit: A cold-water bloom on November 1, 2018 on West Campus Pond in Lawrence KS. Ted Harris, Kansas Biological Survey.