HAB-related toxin detection in Lake Erie with an Environmental Sample Processor

Back to the GLERL HABs and Hypoxia Page

Celebrating the first ESP for NOAA OAR are from left to right: GLERL's Lead HABs researcher/ Molecular Biologist Dr. Timothy Davis, OAR's Assistant Administrator Dr. Craig McLean, GLERL's Director Debbie Lee, and CILER Research Specialist and ESP Technician Alicia Ritzenthaler.
Celebrating the first ESP for NOAA OAR are from left to right: GLERL's Lead HABs researcher/ Molecular Biologist Dr. Timothy Davis, OAR's Assistant Administrator Dr. Craig McLean, GLERL's Director Debbie Lee, and CILER Research Specialist and ESP Technician Alicia Ritzenthaler.

For the first time in history, an Environmental Sample Processor (ESP) will be deployed in freshwater in 2016. The ESPniagara, aptly named for its use in a Great Lakes system, is a "lab in a can" designed in collaboration with NOAA-National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS), CILER, and Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) to monitor for Microcystin, the dominant algal toxin in western Lake Erie. The ESPniagara autonomously collects water samples and analyzes them for algal toxins. The goal is to provide drinking water managers with data on harmful-algal toxicity in near real-time before the water reaches municipal water intakes. This toxicity data, coupled with NOAA's existing suite of Lake Erie HAB products (i.e. weekly Lake Erie HAB bulletin and the Experimental HAB Tracker), can provide water managers with more precise bloom location, projected direction, intensity, and toxicity. ESPniagara will strengthen our ability to both detect and provide warning of potential human health impacts from Microcystin.

What is an ESP?

The MBARI ESP is a "lab in a can" designed for autonomous deployment. It collects water samples, concentrates particulate material, runs molecular diagnostics that are customized to the needs of the users, and sends data in near real-time.

ESPniagara being deployed for the first time in Lake Erie in June 2016. The first deployment is to conduct a communication check to ensure sampling and analysis data is communicating between the ESP and NOAA GLERL. A custom made underwater stationary mooring was built to house and seal the ESPniagara for deployments in Lake Erie.
ESPniagara being deployed for the first time in Lake Erie in June 2016. The first deployment is to conduct a communication check to ensure sampling and analysis data is communicating between the ESP and NOAA GLERL. A custom made underwater stationary mooring was built to house and seal the ESPniagara for deployments in Lake Erie.

2016 Deployments

The ESPniagara is scheduled to be deployed 3 times in 2016. The first two deployments will be field tests in order to calibrate the instrument and make sure the communication system, which allows land-based scientists to "talk" to the instrument and retrieve data, is working. The ESPniagara will be deployed in September near the Toledo drinking water treatment facility intake pipe for its first full mission sampling at least every other day. During this mission it will sample water at the surface and in the water column, allowing us to detect concentrations of toxins that may be a health risk to people swimming, boating or drinking Lake Erie water. After scientists conduct tests to assure the quality of the data, the data will be posted on NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL) HABs and Hypoxia webpage to inform decision-making by water managers and other stakeholders in near real-time.

Advantages over other monitoring methods

Currently, water treatment mangers rely on weekly water quality sampling proxies, such using algal pigment concentrations to infer risk of toxins and/or sampling and analysis of water once it has reached the treatment plants. Unfortunately, these methods provide water treatment managers little time to respond to a toxic bloom. The ESPniagara can provide managers an earlier warning of algal blooms and their toxicity, which will enable communities to take action to protect public health sooner. This new, near real-time information will augment our current weekly monitoring in Lake Erie, which requires field water quality samples to be analyzed in the laboratory for algal toxin. Correlations between weekly field data collected on toxicity and chlorophyll concentrations will continue to be monitored in an effort to develop an experimental forecast of bloom toxicity.

Development and Funding

The ESP was developed by MBARI and is now commercially manufactured by McLane Laboratories. The ESP was purchased by GLERL with funding from EPA-Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The technology to detect microcystins (an ELISA assay) was developed by NOAA-National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS). Previous work to demonstrate the viability of ESP technology to assist in monitoring and forecasting of HABs and their related toxins in the marine environment has been supported by NCCOS funding.

Visit the web page of the Cooperative Institute for Limnology and Ecosystems Research Visit the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Homepage