April 26, 2013

High-tech buoy helping scientists fight algae on lakes

The research on Great Pond in Belgrade will offer early notice of conditions that lead to the blooms.

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling mhhetling@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

BELGRADE - On Thursday afternoon, a $20,000 buoy was deployed into the waters of Great Pond, a move environmental scientists say will help answer questions about algae blooms and other looming threats to the lake's ecosystem.

click image to enlarge

Colby College chemistry professor Whitney King, at rear, and Colby College senior Matt LaPine, 22, install a research buoy named Goldie in Great Pond in Belgrade.

Michael G. Seamans / Morning Sentinel

"We're seeing that they could be coming here more rapidly," Denise Bruesewitz, professor of environmental studies at Colby College, said of the blooms. "That's part of why Great Pond was chosen. It's in this state where they're not very prevalent, but where that could change."

The high-tech buoy will use solar-powered sensors to collect data and wirelessly transmit it to a global network of scientists.

Scientists hope that regular readings on temperature, oxygen levels, light levels and phytoplankton activity will help them combat the blooms.

Blooms happen when lake conditions allow for a population explosion of algae. When the algae die and sink to the bottom, their decomposition takes so much oxygen out of the water that entire populations of fish can suffocate.

Algal blooms have been documented in the seven bodies of water that make up the Belgrade Lakes system since the 1990s, but so far, they have been relatively mild.

Five algal blooms were recorded by the Department of Environmental Protection in Maine in 2012. One was in nearby China Lake, which the department said blooms every year. The other 2012 blooms were found in lakes in Eastbrook, Franklin, Jefferson and Rangeley.

A total of 54 lakes in Maine "frequently support algal blooms," according to the department.

Changes in climate can increase their severity, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

As the global climate shifts, blooms appear to be increasing -- not only in Maine, but in surface waters across the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

It is hard to predict exactly how much money algae blooms might cost Maine. A survey conducted by the World Health Organization found that one-third of tourists to coastal destinations would cancel their plans if they knew of an algal bloom in the area. In Kansas, a rash of severe blooms in 2011 caused a revenue drop of about 50 percent at Cheney State Park, according to local news reports.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be contacted at 861-9287 or at:

mhhetling@centralmaine.com

 

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