Environmental Sample Processor (ESP)

The ESPniagara sits inside a custom underwater stationary mooring during deployments. This photo was taken on July 12, 2017, during the ESP niagara's first deployment of the 2017 HAB season in Lake Erie.
The ESPniagara sits inside a custom underwater stationary mooring during deployments. This photo was taken on July 12, 2017, during the ESPniagara's first deployment of the 2017 HAB season in Lake Erie.

The world’s first-ever freshwater Environmental Sample Processor (ESP) is tracking the levels of dangerous toxins produced by cyanobacteria that bloom each summer in the western basin of Lake Erie. 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), the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research (CIGLR), and Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI). The ESPniagara autonomously collects water samples to monitor for microcystin, the dominant algal toxin in western Lake Erie. 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 produced by the ESPniagara, coupled with NOAA's twice-weekly Lake Erie HAB Bulletin and the Experimental HAB Tracker nowcast and five-day forecast provide water managers with more precise bloom location, projected direction, intensity, and toxicity.

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.

Emily Davenport from the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research (CIGLR) loads the sampling pucks into the ESP. The pucks serve as small reaction chambers for water sample analysis to determine the level of microcystin toxins in cyanobacteria cells.
Emily Davenport from the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research (CIGLR) loads the sampling pucks into the ESP. The pucks serve as small reaction chambers for water sample analysis to determine the level of microcystin toxins in cyanobacteria cells.

Advantages over other monitoring methods

The ESPniagara, in conjunction with NOAA's bloom forecasting tools NOAA Operational Lake Erie HAB Bulletin and the Experimental HAB Tracker, will strengthen NOAA's ability to detect microcystins and forecast bloom movement, providing important information to local managers assessing potential human health impacts. Currently, water treatment managers 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. Tests are done every other day starting in July and then increased to once a day starting Aug. 1 to coincide with the expected peak in bloom toxicity. Test results are automatically emailed to the inboxes of researchers This new, near real-time information will augment 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 NOAA 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. Two additional ESPs will be deployed for testing in western Lake Erie in 2018 and should be in regular service in 2019. Ultimately, toxicity data from the three autonomous labs will be incorporated into short-term algal bloom forecasts for the western Lake Erie basin.

Media Contact:
Margaret Lansing
Info Services Branch Chief
NOAA GLERL
(734) 741-2210
General HABs information:
Devin Gill
Stakeholder Engagement
CIGLR
(734) 741-2283
General HABs and ESP:
Henry Vanderploeg
Research Ecologist
NOAA GLERL
(734) 741-2284

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