Postprint version. Published in Harmful Algae, Volume 5, Issue 6, December 1, 2006, pages 749-761. Copyright © 2006 Elsevier. The definitive version is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.hal.2006.03.005.
Blooms of toxic algae are increasing in magnitude and frequency around the globe, causing extensive economic and environmental impacts. On the west coast of Florida, blooms of the toxic dinoflagellate Karenia brevis (Davis) have been documented annually for the last 30 years causing respiratory irritation in humans, fish kills, and toxin bioaccumulation in shellfish beds. As a result, methods need to be established to monitor and predict bloom formation and transport to mitigate their harmful effects on the surrounding ecosystems and local communities. In the past, monitoring and mitigation efforts have relied on visual confirmation of water discoloration, fish kills, and laborious cell counts, but recently satellite remote sensing has been used to track harmful algal blooms (HABs) along the Florida coast. Unfortunately satellite ocean color is limited by cloud cover, lack of detection below one optical depth, and revisit frequency, all of which can lead to extended periods without data. To address these shortcomings, an optical phytoplankton discriminator (OPD) was developed to detect K. brevis cells in mixed phytoplankton assemblages. The OPD was integrated into autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) platforms to gather spatially and temporally relevant data that can be used in collaboration with satellite imagery to provide a 3D picture of bloom dynamics over time. In January 2005, a Remote Environmental Monitoring UnitS (REMUS) AUV with an OPD payload was deployed on the west coast of Florida to retrieve a similarity index (SI), which indicates when K. brevis dominates the phytoplankton community. SI was used to monitor a K. brevis bloom in relation to temperature, salinity, chlorophyll, and ocean currents. Current speed, SI, temperature, salinity, and chlorophyll a from the AUV were used to quantify a 1 km displacement of the K. brevis bloom front that was observed over the deployment period. The ability to monitor short term bloom movement will improve monitoring and predictive efforts that are used to provide warnings for local tourism and fishing industries. In addition, understanding the fine scale environmental conditions associated with bloom formation will increase our ability to predict the location and timing of K. brevis bloom formation. This study demonstrates the use of one autonomous platform and provides evidence that a nested array of AUVs and moorings equipped with new sensors, combined with remote sensing, can provide an early warning and monitoring system to reduce the impact of HABs.