Evaluation of metrics and thresholds for use in national-scale river harmful algal bloom assessments

Ecological Indicators
By: , and 



The spatiotemporal distribution of harmful algal blooms (HABs) in rivers remains poorly understood, and there is an urgent need to develop a consistent set of metrics to better document HAB occurrences and forecast future events. Using data from seven sites in the Illinois River Basin, we computed metrics focused on HAB conditions related to excess algal growth and hypoxia. Daily mean chlorophyll and dissolved oxygen (DO) concentrations, gross primary productivity (GPP), and net ecosystem productivity (NEP) rates, focused on water quality status, identifying the timing of the transition from a clear-water to an algal dominated state. Early warning indicators (EWIs), the first-order autoregressive process (Ar1) and standard deviation (SD) of chlorophyll concentrations, focused on future events, forecasting blooms. Metrics were compared to either literature-derived or statistical-based thresholds and were normalized by total number of daily samples for an exceedance rate. Exceedances of a daily mean chlorophyll concentration averaged 50 % across all sites using a 10 µg L−1 threshold but increasing the threshold to 50 μg L−1 reduced the average exceedance rate to 5 %. The average exceedance rate for GPP (∼8 g O2 m2d−1 threshold) was 15 %, similar to the daily amplitude DO concentration (∼3 mg L−1 threshold), but the average for NEP (0 g O2 m2 d−1 threshold) was higher, at 28 %. The number of days with at least 1 continuous DO concentration below the threshold of 5, 3, or 2 mg L−1, had basin wide exceedance rates of 9 %, 3 %, and 2 %, respectively. Thresholds for EWIs, Ar1 and SD, were exceeded at 5 of the 7 sites with high chlorophyll concentrations and GPP rates. The correlation between proxies for algal biomass (chlorophyll concentration) and productivity (GPP) was strongest for sites in the middle region of the basin, with R2 values between 0.54 and 0.74. Although, cyanotoxin concentrations are the most commonly used metrics by states to define an inland water HAB, there is a paucity of publicly available data. The wider availability of chlorophyll and oxygen data combined with the results from this study suggest that biomass and productivity state and event-based metrics may be a promising way to assess and predict the vulnerability of rivers to some of the deleterious effects of HABs at broad spatial scales.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Evaluation of metrics and thresholds for use in national-scale river harmful algal bloom assessments
Series title Ecological Indicators
DOI 10.1016/j.ecolind.2024.111970
Volume 162
Year Published 2024
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Central Midwest Water Science Center, WMA - Earth System Processes Division
Description 111970, 15 p.
Country United States
State Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin
Other Geospatial Illinois River Basin
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
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