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Ohio Sea Grant research gathering phosphorus signatures that can help in harmful algal bloom management

 

Researchers at The Ohio State University are investigating new techniques to detect organic phosphorus compounds in water samples from the Lake Erie watershed. Their goal is to develop unique phosphorus signatures that can provide a clue to the origin of phosphorus found fueling harmful algal blooms (HABs).

Paula Mouser, assistant professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Geodetic Engineering and PhD candidate Michael Brooker collected samples from six different sources in the Sandusky River watershed: chicken, dairy and hog farm manure, runoff from farm fields with row crops, and wastewater treatment plant discharge, along with river water from farther downstream.

Within each of those samples, the researchers detected between 100 and 300 different organic phosphorus compounds, based on preliminary study data. The results of this analysis will develop into a unique signature for each of the samples, showing both similarities and major differences. For example, the farm field runoff and the treatment plant discharge had the highest number of shared phosphorus compounds, while the manures had more unshared, unique formulas.

“Right now we are characterizing what the phosphorus signature is for each of those sources,” Mouser said. “As the ultimate goal, once we know which phosphorus compounds come from each source, we can try to link those organic phosphorus compounds in rivers and lakes impacted by HABs to a likely upstream source location.”

The researchers hope that pulling all of this information together will help guide pollution management strategies in the Sandusky River watershed by focusing efforts on specific phosphorus sources that contribute most to the total phosphorus going into the watershed.

Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) have been a focus of Ohio Sea Grant’s work since 1971, when the Center for Lake Erie Research (CLEAR) was formed. Today, Sea Grant’s work on reducing and preventing HABs ranges from the local to the international level, and from supporting policy makers to educating locals about HABs and their impacts.

Algal blooms reduce tourism income and overall quality of life near the shore, and algal toxins can cause skin rashes, GI symptoms, and liver and nervous system damage. Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Lab staff and researchers continue to study how HABs develop and what steps can be taken to prevent their formation and lessen their impacts on Lake Erie communities.

The project is funded by Ohio State’s Field to Faucet Initiative and by the Ohio Department of Higher Education’s Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative, which is managed by Ohio Sea Grant. More information about other projects in these initiatives is available online at go.osu.edu/habsinfo.

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