PORSTMOUTH, Va. (WAVY)— Old Dominion University Ocean & Earth Sciences Professor Margaret Mulholland and ODU eminent scholar and Professor Eileen Hofmann were recently awarded a $3 million grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.

The professors plan to use the money as part of a five-year project to conduct surveillance and collect data on harmful algal blooms in the Chesapeake Bay and other major waterways in the Hampton Roads region. At the end of the project, the university will use the data to build forecasting products for harmful algal blooms in the mid-Atlantic region. 

This multimillion-dollar research project was funded by the NOAA Monitoring and Event Response for Harmful Algal Blooms program.

Mulholland will work with scientists from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), the NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Association Coastal Ocean Observing System (MARACOOS) to conduct research through 2028, according to a news release from the university.

They will use a range of technologies to detect harmful algae and will build image libraries and classifiers using machine learning.

“This project will augment monitoring and management through coordinated laboratory, field, satellite and modeling studies that will build on our ongoing and previous project, leverage and expand our existing monitoring/modeling frameworks, incorporate emerging technologies and engage stakeholders in co-development/production of approaches,” Mulholland said.

With the use of image-classifying software, Mulholland and her team of partners will be able to identify algae bloom in near real-time, according to the release.

Using newly developed technology, the early detection of these harmful algal blooms will allow managers to be proactive about mitigation of their negative effects. Citizen scientists will also be trained to observe and report discolored or bioluminescent water and collect water samples.

Observations will be publicly available through the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Forecasting System and the MARACOOS OceansMap portals.

Some of the largest stakeholders of this project are citizens living, working and recreating in mid-Atlantic coastal waters and the Chesapeake Bay. Citizen outreach and engagement will be a crucial component of this project.

“Our team of five investigators at VIMS is excited about this collaboration that will leverage our existing collection efforts in the York River and expand our engagement with local stakeholders,” said Pierre St-Laurent, senior research scientist at Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

Here is the full list of partners and collaborators for the grant:

  • NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science
  • Mid-Atlantic Regional Association Coastal Ocean Observing System (MARACOOS)
  • Virginia I Marine Science (VIMS)
  • The Virginia A Department of Health
  • Virginia Department of Environmental Quality
  • North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality
  • The Virginia Harmful Algal Bloom Taskforce
  • Maryland Department of Natural Resources
  • The Virginia Marine Resources Commission
  • The Virginia Aquarium
  • NASA Langley
  • NASA Goddard
  • York River Oysters
  • The Hampton Roads Sanitation District (HRSD)

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