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Evaluation of sensors for continuous monitoring of harmful algal blooms in the Finger Lakes region, New York, 2019 and 2020

March 26, 2024

In response to the increasing frequency of cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms (CyanoHABs) in the Finger Lakes region of New York State, a pilot study by the U.S. Geological Survey, in collaboration with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, was conducted to enhance CyanoHAB monitoring and understanding. High-frequency sensors were deployed on open water monitoring-station platforms at Seneca Lake in 2019–20, at Owasco Lake in 2019–20, and at Skaneateles Lake in 2019. One of the goals of this study was to evaluate the ability of in-place sensors to make representative measurements of dissolved organic matter, nutrients, and algal pigments (as indicators of phytoplankton biomass) while collecting routine field parameters (water temperature, specific conductance, pH, dissolved oxygen, turbidity, weather, and light) to provide additional information about environmental conditions.

Despite challenges like power issues and sensor fouling, the sensors performed well overall. However, correlation analyses between sensor readings and laboratory measurements revealed variable performance. Results indicate the relation between the fluorescent dissolved organic matter sensor and laboratory-measured dissolved organic carbon was weak at all study lakes. The nitrate sensors can be sensitive to ambient temperature and have a substantial power requirement, and the relation between sensor- and laboratory-measured nitrate values differed among lakes. The orthophosphate sensors, which were complex and prone to data loss, yielded results that were difficult to interpret because orthophosphate detections are rare in the study lakes. The multichannel fluorometer was also complex to use and required several unique procedures for its operation.

Chlorophyll measurements from the fluorometers correlated moderately well with laboratory-measured chlorophyll-a, although relations with total phytoplankton biovolume were weaker. Relations between phycocyanin concentration measurements from the dual-channel fluorometers and cyanobacterial biovolume were not significant; however, the cyanobacterial biovolume correlation was moderately strong with chlorophyll contribution from cyanobacteria measurements from the multichannel fluorometer. Of all collected parameters, water temperature was among the strongest correlated with chlorophyll-a, total phytoplankton biovolume, and cyanobacterial biovolume.

Stepwise regression analysis was used to identify the best parameters for modeling variance in laboratory measures of phytoplankton biomass. This analysis included factors such as chlorophyll fluorescence, pH, water temperature, and others, which varied by lake. Overall, the models had limited explanatory power for chlorophyll-a and other biovolumes, possibly due to the absence of CyanoHABs at the open-water monitoring locations. Multivariate models did not outperform simple fluorescence-based models. Notably, turbidity was a more significant indicator of cyanobacterial biovolume variability than phycocyanin from dual-channel fluorometers.

The study concludes that while single and multivariate models based on sensor data are useful, they did not explain any more variance than fluorescence-based models. Broader data collection, including more CyanoHAB events, is necessary to refine these models. Integrating machine learning could leverage large, complex datasets to improve CyanoHAB predictions, thereby enhancing the management and understanding of these blooms.

Publication Year 2024
Title Evaluation of sensors for continuous monitoring of harmful algal blooms in the Finger Lakes region, New York, 2019 and 2020
DOI 10.3133/sir20245010
Authors Brett D. Johnston, Kaitlyn M. Finkelstein, Sabina R. Gifford, Michael D. Stouder, Elizabeth A. Nystrom, Philip R. Savoy, Joshua J. Rosen, Matthew B. Jennings
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2024-5010
Index ID sir20245010
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization New York Water Science Center