Field Testing and Expansion of Capablilites of the Envirnommental Sample Processor:Necessary Steps toward Operational HAB Monitoring and Forecasting in the Gulf of Maine

Coastal waters worldwide are experiencing a steady decline in water quality, fisheries productivity, ecosystem health, and aesthetics, largely as a result of human activities such as pollution, overfishing, and coastal development. Among these many threats are "red tides" or harmful algal blooms (HABs). Impacts include illness and death of human consumers of contaminated seafood, shellfish quarantines, mortalities of fish and marine animals, deterioration of water quality, and ecosystem disruption. HABs have been highlighted as priority research areas in many high-level NOAA planning documents. Present day management of these phenomena is time-consuming, labor intensive, and based on outdated technology. Monitoring for HABs typically involves testing of shellfish for toxins, with little or no information collected offshore to indicate the extent of the bloom or the movement of the waters that contain it. Recognizing this limitation, a major priority within NOAA has been the development of HAB forecasting capabilities. Currently operational forecasting systems exist or are under development in several areas of the US such as the Gulf of Mexico and the Great Lakes. The next focal area for development of this capability is the Gulf of Maine, an area subject to outbreaks of the toxic dinoflagellate Alexandrium fundyense, a species responsible for annually recurrent paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) episodes. Toxic Pseudo-nitzschia species responsible for amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP) also occur within the region. Unlike the situation in the Gulf of Mexico or the Great Lakes, remote sensing data from space cannot be used to identify and characterize blooms for use in forecasts. Instead, real-time measurements of HAB cell concentrations are needed for assimilation into forecast models. Here we propose the first steps towards the deployment and utilization of autonomous sensors that can obtain data on HAB abundance and toxicity that can be assimilated into numerical models and used for NOAA forecasts in the Gulf of Maine. For many years, this has been a distant dream of scientists and managers, but that dream is now close to reality with the commercialization of the Environmental Sample Processor (ESP) that is the centerpiece of this proposal. The ESP can be deployed subsurface for extended intervals. It collects and processes water samples, counts HAB cells and measures toxins, and relays the data to shore. A wide variety of organisms and chemicals of interest to science and society can be analyzed over time scales that are not otherwise possible, all in automated fashion. This unique and revolutionary instrument is now being manufactured by McLane Research Laboratories (MRL). PI Anderson has just been awarded $2M by the NSF Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) program to purchase five of these instruments as well as associated mooring and communications hardware. The latter are new designs - technically sound, but untested in real-world conditions. The ESPs are being built using proven designs, but are the first instruments produced by MRL, and thus also need rigorous field testing. The MRI grant provides funds only for purchase and maintenance of the instruments, so funds are needed for deployment, evaluation, and modification, as well as to allow new users to learn the intricacies of their operation. The system will be deployed in the nearshore waters of the Gulf of Maine, in the direct pathway of coastal Alexandrium blooms in western Maine. Validation (or ground-truth) sampling of cells and toxins will be conducted near the moorings on each deployment and recovery operation. Toxin samples will be archived for use by partner G. Doucette during his parallel development of a membrane array-based saxitoxin detection assay for the ESP. Additional functionality will be added to the ESPs in the form of assays for toxic east coast Pseudo-nitzschia species as well as their toxin domoic acid.