Lauren Ordway

Document Type

Internship Report

Publication Date

Spring 2009


The term harmful algal bloom (also known colloquially as ‘red tides’) refers to the rapid growth or production of a small minority of toxin producing phytoplankton (or microalgae). Blooms can potentially have human health consequences, economic ramifications, and reduce overall ecosystem resilience. Over the past few decades, there has been increased observation of harmful algal blooms on a global scale. Whether this data represents a tangible change, or is simply a function of increased monitoring remains inconclusive. There are a number of driving factors associated with bloom initiation, both natural and as a result of human activity. However, in light of anthropogenically mediated climate change, scientists are attempting to better understand how aspects of a changing climate may interact with bloom dynamics. The southeastern United States is hypothesized to be one of the most impacted areas of the country as a result of global climate change. Incidentally, the region is also affected by a numerous types of HABs. High levels of coastal development and reliance on coastal resources makes it particularly vulnerable to such events, and an important region to elucidate upon potential links between climate and HABs. This paper discusses the interactions of both climate variability and change with harmful algae species by reviewing studies done throughout the world, but as they pertain to HABs in the southeastern United States. While a number of papers speculate about the potential of increased sea surface temperature, increased stratification, ocean acidification, changes in precipitation, upwelling and vertical mixing to favor harmful species dominance, or in promoting suitable conditions for HABs, very few studies to date have been done to empirically support such claims. The myriad of challenges to such research are discussed, as well the importance of precautionary policy-making in the face of scientific uncertainty.


Department: MAF

Location: Southeast Climate Consortium

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