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Civil Engineer Taps AI Tech for EPA Study to Control Algal Blooms in Coastal Waters

Story by
Trisha Radulovich
algal bloom
Red Tide: Beach covered with dead fish killed by the toxic bloom of red algae in Tampa Bay Florida. (Bigstock/EyeMark)

Civil engineer and RIDER Center faculty member Nasrin Alamdari is the principal investigator of a new U.S. Department of Environmental Protection (EPA) project to predict harmful algal blooms. The FAMU-FSU researcher is developing a novel method of collecting data to control and mitigate algal growth in South Florida.

Alamdari is developing a machine learning (ML) tool, a form of artificial intelligence that can make predictions from data. The ML tool can show where algal growth may become a problem and adds valuable insight to current databases used in water management.

As the population and agricultural production increase, many of the U.S.’s largest estuaries have become eutrophic, leading to an increased occurrence of harmful algal blooms, known as HABs. Alamdari is tracking chlorophyll-a concentrations, a key indicator of HABs. She is specifically studying the Biscayne Bay in South Florida.

Biscayne Bay Study

Biscayne Bay borders Miami-Dade County and is an NOAA “Habitat Focus Area,” which has a lot of concerns related to elevated nutrients, and the occurrence of algal blooms. The area is showing stress from the influence of rapid urbanization and agriculture.

“When excess nutrients drain from the land to the coastal ecosystem of Biscayne Bay harmful algal blooms become a problem,” Alamdari said. “They can sicken and kill people and animals as well as create dead zones in the water. Our tool can be used by planners and other decision-makers to restore degraded ecosystems while protecting healthy ones.”

The predictive qualities of the ML tool help mitigate and prevent HABs, by revealing the relationship between nutrient loading, water temperature, land and use to algal growth. When the tool is finalized, it will provide a cost-effective way to promote a healthy ecosystem. 

Nature-based features like green infrastructure are some ways to enhance water quality and coastal hazard management.  The tool will help researchers know where these features will be most beneficial. Alamdari is working with a management transition advisory group to advance the development of the tool.

“There is a lack of understanding on the effectiveness of HAB control, especially along the coast,” Alamdari said. “Research is vital to identifying the most cost-effective way to control algal growth in coastal waters like Biscayne Bay.”

Future efforts will include the applications of the predictive tool for other coastal water bodies like the St. Lucie Estuary and Florida Bay. 

“Our project will improve coastal protection and not only benefit Biscayne Bay, but will also be broadly applicable and transferrable to other coastal regions across the U.S.,” Alamdari said.

The U.S. EPA is funding the three-year project.

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