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USF Marine Scientists Helping Lead Red Tide Monitoring and Mitigation Efforts

Mengqiu Wang, postdoctoral researcher, takes seaweed measurements in the Gulf of Mexico. Credit: USF College of Marine Science

Researchers in the USF College of Marine Science have a long history studying red tide and predict this is going to be a particularly bad year. The harmful algal blooms are slowly moving up Florida’s west coast, causing widespread fish kills, marine mammal mortalities and respiratory issues.

Several USF faculty members are actively researching red tide, helping guide the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC) through its monitoring and mitigation efforts.

Robert Weisberg, PhD, distinguished professor of physical oceanography, studies the origin of red tide blooms and their trajectory. Chuanmin Hu, PhD, professor of optical oceanography, generates unique satellite imagery in near real-time, helping monitor and study Karenia brevis,the organism that causes red tide. John Paul, PhD, distinguished professor of biological oceanography, created the USF-patented Tricorder Sensor. The hand-held device tests forK. brevison-site, helping expedite the decision-making process in whether or not beaches or shellfish harvesting beds should be closed.

Satellite image from July 27, 2018 shows red tide along west central Florida. Credit: USF College of Marine Science and NASA

“The ocean circulation determines the nutrient conditions within the formative region for red tide on the west Florida shelf, making these conditions either conducive or not for major bloom occurrence,” said Weisberg. “This explains why only certain years experience major red tide blooms, and it also provides a means for seasonal prediction.

USF marine scientists are now looking for operational support to replace an aging fleet of robotic gliders used to enhance offshore sampling of organisms, such as those that cause red tide.

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