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PFI:BIC A Smart Service System (ESPnet) for Enhanced Monitoring and Management of Toxic Algal Blooms


This Partnerships for Innovation: Building Innovation Capacity (PFI:BIC) project addresses a significant and growing societal problem: toxic or harmful algal blooms (HABs), commonly called "red tides". Every year, millions of dollars are lost due to red tides and HABs throughout the US and the world. Losses can be direct, such as human illnesses and deaths from the consumption of contaminated food or the mortality of fish and shellfish resources, or indirect, such as the avoidance of all seafood products during red tides, even products that are safe. Management of areas threatened by HAB toxins currently involves monitoring programs that rely on weekly flesh-testing of shellfish collected from many locations along a coast. These programs are expensive, slow, providing protection through conservative harvesting closure policies that have not changed for decades. Red tide management can be greatly improved through the use of technological advances such as the Environmental Sample Processor (ESP), a submersible, self-contained "laboratory-in-a-can" that collects water samples and identifies molecules or genes that indicate the presence of hazardous species of algae. ESPs operate autonomously for months and transmit data, including environmental conditions, to shore. The goal of this project is to develop and demonstrate ESPnet, a system that will utilize these novel biosensors to provide environmental awareness and decision support capabilities for resource managers charged with protecting public health and the viability of fisheries industries and tourism from toxic HABs. This system is transformational, as it applies a new sensor technology to a major resource management problem that is currently addressed through monitoring programs that are expensive, slow, and outdated. No other service system of this type currently exists for managing HABs, microbial pathogens, or other water-borne diseases or problems.<br/><br/>ESPnet will be based on a network of ESPs that will supply real-time, high-frequency HAB surveillance information through a web portal complete with automated data analysis and visualization tools, allowing managers to view the coastal environment with unprecedented detail so they can act decisively and effectively. The three-year project will include field deployments of multiple ESPs at key locations along the Gulf of Maine (GOM) coast. The project team will work with their industry partner, McLane Research Laboratories, to modify ESP hardware and software to reduce power consumption and extend deployments to fully sample the HAB season in the GOM. Meeting the overall goal of this project requires a development effort to fully automate ESP data analysis and to merge that with geospatially rendered environmental measurements; this system must be tailored to non-experts and available via a user-friendly data portal. Human factors will be addressed through identification of user groups and characterization of receptivities to the new system, optimization of the manner in which system information is supplied to users, characterization of feedback among user groups, and estimation of economic costs and benefits from the ESPnet technology. <br/><br/>This project addresses fundamental issues underlying management of the most widespread of all HAB poisoning syndromes--paralytic shellfish poisoning or PSP. Project activities thus have important societal benefits. The ESPnet concept can be applied to PSP problems elsewhere in the U.S., as well as to other HAB poisoning syndromes, and to a host of non-HAB problems that affect water quality, such as viruses and microbial pathogens. This project therefore satisfies the criterion "fostering connections between discoveries and their use in the service of society". This project has extensive undergraduate and graduate training, as multiple students and interns will be involved. Project results will be broadly disseminated through scientific papers, workshop and conference presentations, and discussions with the media. This project thus meets NSF's Broader Impact Criterion II through "advancing discovery in understanding while promoting teaching, training, and learning".<br/><br/>Primary partners include Lead institution: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Biology Department and Marine Policy Center (non-profit research and educational institution); Industrial partner: McLane Research Laboratories (Falmouth, MA; small minority-owned business); Academic partner: Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (Moss Landing, CA; non-profit). Broader Context Partners include Northeast Regional Association for Coastal Ocean Observing Systems (NERACOOS; Portsmouth, NH; regional association); Maine Department of Marine Resources (W. Boothbay Harbor, ME; state agency); New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (Concord, NH; state agency); Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (New Bedford, MA; state agency).

Hoagland, Porter; Birch, James; Jin, Di; Scholin, Christopher; Anderson, Donald M
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
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