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Hurricanes, El Niño and harmful algal blooms

Each year, the UF/IFAS Office of the Dean for Research highlights publications that are excellent examples of how UF/IFAS researchers at our Gainesville campus and our Research and Education Centers (RECs) are making a difference and impacting our world. Read on to learn more about one of the publications selected.

Hurricanes, El Niño and harmful algal blooms in two sub-tropical Florida estuaries: Direct and indirect impacts
Edward Phlips, Susan Badylak, Natalie Nelson and Karl Havens

Future increases in the intensity of hurricanes and El Niño periods predicted by climate change models have focused attention on their role in stimulating harmful algal blooms (HABs). A series of hurricanes that recently impacted Florida provided a unique opportunity to explore the relationships between hurricanes, El Niño and HABs in two Florida estuaries subject to repeated intense ecosystem disruptive HABs, the Indian River Lagoon and the St. Lucie Estuary.

The roles that hurricanes and El Niño play in contributing to HAB events are examined in the context of key structural and functional features of each estuary and their watersheds, including morphology, water residence time and hydrology, such as the influence of Lake Okeechobee discharges into the St. Lucie Estuary.

The most direct impact was the increase in rainfall associated with hurricanes and El Niño, resulting in enhanced nutrient loads which drive HABs in the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee. Major HABs in Lake Okeechobee also present an indirect threat of freshwater HAB blooms in the St. Lucie Estuary via mandated discharges from the lake into the estuary during high rainfall periods. Conversely, during the absence of HABs in Lake Okeechobee, short water residence times produced by discharges into the St. Lucie Estuary can result in lower bloom intensities.

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-58771-4