Innovative project on Seneca Lake to study toxic algae

Local News

The health of the Finger Lakes may be in jeopardy as toxic algae are becoming more of a problem during the summer months. This year DEC and USGS scientists are using some of the most advanced technology in the country to track when this potentially deadly algae shows up. 

The focus is on Seneca, Owasco, and Skaneateles Lake harmful algal blooms – now found on every Finger Lake and impacting human health. Jennifer Graham has been studying these for 20 years and expects the problem to get worse. “We are talking about the organisms that are microscopic that you usually don’t see with the naked eye,” said Graham. 

This is all part of a $65 million state initiative to fight blue-green algae that is tough to track. “Some blooms are toxic; some are not and the only way to differentiate right now is by actually measuring it.” This requires taking it to a lab that can take several days.  

Guy Foster is the New York Harmful Algal Bloom Project Lead for USGS and says the blooms are nearly impossible to forecast. “I’ve done studies in the past where within a 15 minutes time period you can see a bloom and then it will be gone,” said Foster.  

Three sensors that look like large black cylinders will measure algae in different spots on Seneca Lake every fifteen minutes to see patterns that could lead to short-range outlooks. These patterns could be some types of algae taking over other types that may be a sign of a harmful algal bloom-forming. “To be able to see the takeover might give us some predictive capability. Say blue-green algae is starting to take over, we should come out here and take more samples.” 

The sensors measure, among many others, concentrations of phosphorous and nitrogen that are food for the HABs. This will not help with mitigation but could be a clue into how and when they form. 

Data is available to the public by clicking here. 

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