BGSU’s Davis named to global steering committee for harmful algal blooms

Department of Biological Sciences professor is an international expert known for his Lake Erie HABs research

By Bob Cunningham ’18

Dr. Timothy Davis was one of nine international researchers recently named to the Scientific Steering Committee (SSC) for GlobalHAB, an international program that is jointly sponsored by the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research (SCOR) and Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO.

Davis is the Patrick L. & Debra (Scheetz) Ryan Endowed Professor in Bowling Green State University’s Department of Biological Sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences.

The GlobalHAB steering committee meets regularly to discuss global harmful algal bloom (HAB) issues.

“Harmful algal blooms affect every continent except Antarctica, so getting together across the globe to discuss their impact on all of us is really important,” said Davis, who was recognized in Washington, D.C., last year for his work with members of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce. “The idea is to combine a strategic vision for global HABs research as well as come together as a smaller group to write reports and document what will help shape a global, uniform scientific agenda for understanding, mitigating and controlling HABs.”

“Dr. Davis lending his expertise to the Scientific Steering Committee for GlobalHAB demonstrates not only the importance of protecting our Great Lakes from the threats posed by harmful algal blooms but also international waters," BGSU President Rodney K. Rogers said. “As a public university for the public good, our faculty’s research drives the educational vitality of our communities. Water quality is a critical issue, and BGSU is committed to being part of the solution.”

Growing the network of scientists who are involved in HABs research is important to solving the problems of HABs in bodies of water such as Lake Erie.

“Harmful algal blooms are a global problem, and we need a regional solution,” Davis said. “Talking not just within your regional network of scientists to work on a particular issue such as harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie, but then being able to expand that to a global community gives you a broader perspective. By expanding your network, it expands your collaborative opportunities and it also potentially expands the possibilities for students at BGSU to be involved in research that spans more broadly than the Great Lakes region.”

Lake Erie bloom likely to be smaller this summer

NOAA has predicted a moderate HAB this summer for western Lake Erie.

“It looks like it’s going to be a relative mild bloom in terms of size and intensity,” Davis said, “but toxicity is something we still can’t forecast. We don’t know whether the bloom will be dangerous from a toxic perspective, even if it’s not that large. The good news is, because it was a rather dry spring the overall bloom size and intensity this year is going to be smaller than previous years, but we still don’t know how toxic it’s going to be. There’s still a need to go out on the lake and monitor the bloom for toxins like we’ve been doing.”

New research vessel expands BGSU’s reach

In fall 2019, BGSU received a new, 28-foot research vessel, RV Ziggy, that supports the University’s water quality research on Sandusky Bay and Lake Erie as part of the department’s Center for Great Lakes and Watershed Studies. The much-needed vessel was made possible thanks to a generous gift from BGSU alumni Patrick L. and Debra Scheetz Ryan and the Ryan Family Foundation.

“RV Ziggy has allowed BGSU not to be constrained by having to use other vessels for our research on Sandusky Bay and Lake Erie,” Davis said. “The new research vessel has allowed us to increase the amount of data we are able to collect on the lake, which is really important as we move toward potentially designating Sandusky Bay as impaired under the Clean Water Act.

The new vessel also allows for a fast response to changing conditions in the water. If we get a call that there is a bloom forming or something interesting going on, we don’t have to try to find someone to take us out there. We are able to expand our research area further out into Lake Erie.

“The new vessel also allows for a fast response to changing conditions in the water. If we get a call that there is a bloom forming or something interesting going on, we don’t have to try to find someone to take us out there. We are able to expand our research area further out into Lake Erie. We are no longer constrained to using other people’s vessels and being dependent on their schedules and where they are going.”

Taking precautions for COVID-19

Even though HAB research takes place out in the open water, BGSU researchers and students are being careful to operate safely.

“With COVID-19, having a larger vessel is great for physical distancing, but we are also limiting the number of people we are allowing on the vessel and following CDC guidelines for protection while we are on the deck,” Davis said.

BGSU researchers take holistic approach

Davis emphasized that Lake Erie research is just one part of the HAB puzzle. Researchers such as Dr. Alexis Ostrowski also are focusing on the lake’s watershed. Ostrowski and a team of BGSU researchers have developed hydrogels that reclaim nutrients from manure that could help reduce agricultural runoff.

“Our scientists aren’t just working in the bloom,” Davis said. “Once the bloom appears, we’re not just monitoring it. The bloom is the physical manifestation of poor water quality because we have a lot of nutrients running into the lake from the surrounding watershed. As a University, we are taking a holistic approach in understanding and combating harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie by studying and trying to make improvements in our watershed. Because if we can fix our watershed, we will reverse the devastating impact of harmful algal blooms on Lake Erie.”