July 16, 2009

First remote detection of algal reported

U.S. scientists say they have conducted the first remote detection below the ocean's surface of a harmful algal species and its toxin.

Researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute said their achievement represents a significant milestone in the effort to monitor the type and toxicity of harmful algal blooms.

A robotic instrument owned by the aquarium -- a fully-functional analytical laboratory -- was used to collect the algal cells. It extracted the genetic information required for organism identification, as well as the toxin needed to assess the risk to humans and wildlife, the scientists said. The robotic lab then conducted specialized, molecular-based measurements of species and toxin abundance, and transmitted the results to the laboratory via radio signals.

This represents the first autonomous detection of both a harmful algal bloom species and its toxin by an underwater sensor, NOAA research oceanographer Greg Doucette said. It allows us to determine not only the organism causing a bloom, but also the toxicity of the event, which ultimately dictates whether it is a threat to the public and the ecosystem.

The research was reported in the June issue of the journal Oceanography.