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GEO 2017-2019 Work Programme


Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) Early Warning System

Activity ID: 97


Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) can have considerable impacts on ecosystems, public health (by affecting water supplies and recreational bodies of water), and the economy. HABs produce a toxin that can cause illnesses in humans such as gastrointestinal illness (nausea, diarrhea, cramps), eye and skin irritation, and liver damage (with chronic exposure) and can also be a danger to pets. Furthermore, their presence can be an indication of increased pollution, such as agricultural or nutrient runoff. HABs can produce toxins that are a danger to public health through consumption of contaminated fish and shellfish, or through aerolized toxins. HABs also deter recreational and economic activities such as fishing and tourism. When HABs (and ABs) die, they trigger an increase in oxygen demand resulting in a depletion of oxygen in water and can cause fish die-off. HABs are on the rise globally and recent studies show that with climate change, the seasonal windows of onset and duration of blooms are likely to expand as ocean temperatures warm.

Activities for the period

A USGEO effort to develop a domestic or U.S.-based HAB Early Warning System by 2020 would be very beneficial. One critical element of this system could be the provision of a warning system with a 24-hour lead-time. This warning system would be highly synergistic with studies/initiatives such as the EPA-led / NASA-funded study (Schaeffer PI) to characterize cyanobacteria blooms in U.S. aquatic systems and the Lake Erie hyperspectral airborne campaign led by NASA Glenn Research Center, and the NOAA Ecological Forecasting Roadmap HAB forecasting effort and related HABs bulletin. An extensive bloom of toxic algae along the U.S. West Coast (extending from Santa Barbara, California to Alaska) has been occurring since May, and is being tracked by NOAA-led researchers.  In 2014, the city of Toledo, Ohio was without water for several days as a cautionary procedure due to concerns about contamination of the drinking water supply from a HAB.

Future Plans

The United States would like to partner with other countries to share best practices and methods through the GEO network. The goal would be to establish an operational HAB early warning system by 2020.


Linkages across the Work Programme

Flagships: GEO BON (MBON).

Initiatives: EO4EA; Oceans and Society: Blue Planet.

Leadership & Contributors (this list is being populated)




Implementing Entity



Juli Trtanj

United States