Red tide research in Casco Bay continues with help from NASA

Saint Joseph's College marine science professor Gregory Teegarden of Pownal has been awarded $90,000 in research funding as part of a major National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) grant garnered by a collaborative team to continue studying red tide in the Gulf of Maine. With three years of support for the project, Dr. Teegarden and his colleagues at the University of Maine and Bowdoin College will be one step closer to developing an early warning system for red tide, which is caused by a toxic alga that contaminates shellfish populations and hurts Maine's economy.

The remote sensing buoy used in this study is unique because it is placed inshore. (Other buoys, which are part of the Gulf of Maine Ocean Observing System, are placed offshore in open waters.) The buoy is tethered to the ocean floor, and allows researchers to measure ocean currents, visibility, algae pigments, temperature and light at many depths. The readings are broadcast to a server where graphs and other measurement tools allow the team to discover the correlation between patterns in the readings and the onset of red tide. Teegarden says a key to managing red tide lies in being able to use the signals from the buoy to issue an early warning about an outbreak.

Student research assistants from Saint Joseph's will play a large role in this research. "They will be in the field and in the laboratory collecting and processing plankton samples, and helping to analyze data," Teegarden says.

The new grant allows Teegarden to continue his research from last spring, during which he made an unusual discovery. He explains, "You can usually expect a large bloom of diatoms, which are benign algae, from March to April, and a bloom of dinoflagellates, which cause red tide, in late May and June. This past year it was the exact opposite and the classic pattern was broken." Teegarden speculates that fresh water from last winter's melting snow caused the excess amount of red tide.

As part of his earlier work funded by private foundations such as the John Sage Foundation, Teegarden developed The Casco Bay Plankton Identification web site, which launched this fall. He hopes it will serve as a great resource for researchers working with plankton samples and also provide institutions with an effective teaching tool. To visit this unique web site, go to http://sigma.sjcme.edu/cascobaystudy.

 

December 16, 2008 Contact: Charmaine Daniels at (207) 893-7723 or e-mail cdaniels@sjcme.edu ">cdaniels@sjcme.edu