The Lake Erie HABs Grab: A binational collaboration to characterize the western basin cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms at an unprecedented high-resolution spatial scale

Document Type


Publication Date



Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geospatial Engineering


Monitoring of cyanobacterial bloom biomass in large lakes at high resolution is made possible by remote sensing. However, monitoring cyanobacterial toxins is only feasible with grab samples, which, with only sporadic sampling, results in uncertainties in the spatial distribution of toxins. To address this issue, we conducted two intensive “HABs Grabs” of microcystin (MC)-producing Microcystis blooms in the western basin of Lake Erie. These were one-day sampling events during August of 2018 and 2019 in which 100 and 172 grab samples were collected, respectively, within a six-hour window covering up to 2,270 km2 and analyzed using consistent methods to estimate the total mass of MC. The samples were analyzed for 57 parameters, including toxins, nutrients, chlorophyll, and genomics. There were an estimated 11,513 kg and 30,691 kg of MCs in the western basin during the 2018 and 2019 HABs Grabs, respectively. The bloom boundary poses substantial issues for spatial assessments because MC concentration varied by nearly two orders of magnitude over very short distances. The MC to chlorophyll ratio (MC:chl) varied by a factor up to 5.3 throughout the basin, which creates challenges for using MC:chl to predict MC concentrations. Many of the biomass metrics strongly correlated (r > 0.70) with each other except chlorophyll fluorescence and phycocyanin concentration. While MC and chlorophyll correlated well with total phosphorus and nitrogen concentrations, MC:chl correlated with dissolved inorganic nitrogen. More frequent MC data collection can overcome these issues, and models need to account for the MC:chl spatial heterogeneity when forecasting MCs.

Publication Title

Harmful Algae