MSU receives grant to fight harmful algal blooms

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MSU researchers earned a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to identify, manage and eliminate harmful algae blooms (view larger image)

Fueled by changing climate, harmful algal blooms (HABs) can foul drinking water, kill large populations of fish and spoil recreational waterways.

Using a $749,801 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, Michigan State University (MSU) AgBioResearch scientist Jiaguo Qi and other MSU researchers hope to curb the growth of HABs in lakes and reservoirs across the United States. The implications, however, will resonate globally.

Climate change is predicted to increase temperatures and the severity of rains, floods and droughts. More severe rains and floods will carry nutrients to lakes. Along with higher summer temperatures and droughts, risk of HABs should increase. The goal of the project is to improve the ability to manage watersheds with the knowledge that higher levels of protection will be necessary without any change to land use because climate change alone will increase risks of HABs.

Managing HABs has been challenging due to the difficulty identifying the relationship between what triggers and feeds them.

“Past studies show that warm water, low turbulence and high levels of phosphorus fuel excessive growth of HABs,” said Qi, director of the Center for Global Change and Earth Observations and a professor in the MSU department of geography. “Agricultural runoff and the overuse of suburban lawn chemicals also contribute to the problem.”

The team will shed light on the relationship between algal bloom risk and nutrient sources, create models to forecast where and when HABs will appear, and evaluate vulnerability of watersheds in different regions of the country.

Researchers will focus on lakes and watersheds in Michigan, the Great Plains (Nebraska to Texas), the Kentucky-Oklahoma corridor and California’s mountains and central valley.

Other MSU researchers leading the project include Jan Stevenson, professor of zoology and co-director of MSU’s center for Water Sciences; David Hyndman, professor of geological sciences; Anthony Kendall, research associate in geological sciences; and geography professor Nathan Moore.

Over the past several months, the EPA has awarded 14 grants totaling nearly $9 million toward research to help prepare air and water quality management systems for climate-induced changes in extreme environmental events.

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