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Exploring the erodibility of sediments and harmful algal blooms in the Gulf of Maine

April 1, 2012

Investigators at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) are cooperating with scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) to investigate harmful algal blooms along the New England coast in the Gulf of Maine. These blooms are caused by cysts of the dinoflagellate Alexandrium fundyense that overwinter in the bottom sediments and germinate in spring. Depending on conditions such as temperature, light, nutrient levels, and currents, these single-celled organismscan create a bloom along the coast, called ‘red tides.’Shellfish that have ingested these cells in sufficient concentration can become toxic to humans and require that the shellfisheries be closed. After the spring bloom, the organisms form cysts that sink to the sea floor and are sequestered in the bottom sediments over the winter.