Seasonal dynamics of terrestrially sourced nitrogen influenced Karenia brevis blooms off Florida’s southern Gulf Coast

February 3, 2021

Seasonal dynamics of terrestrially sourced nitrogen influenced Karenia brevis blooms off Florida’s southern Gulf Coast

Miles Medina, Environmental Scientist / Data Engineer, Wood Environment and Infrastructure Solutions, Gainesville, FL

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Harmful algal blooms (HABs) threaten coastal ecological systems, public health, and local economies, but the complex physical, chemical, and biological processes that culminate in HABs vary by locale and are often poorly understood. Despite broad recognition that cultural eutrophication may exacerbate nearshore bloom events, the association is typically not linear and is often difficult to quantify. Off the Gulf Coast of Florida, Karenia brevis blooms initiate in the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico, and advection of cells supplies nearshore blooms. However, past work has struggled to describe the relationship between terrestrial nutrient runoff and bloom maintenance near the Gulf Coast. This study applied a novel nonlinear time series (NLTS) analytical framework to investigate whether nearshore bloom dynamics observed near Charlotte Harbor, FL were causally and systematically driven by terrestrially sourced inputs of nitrogen, phosphorus, and freshwater between 2012 and 2018. Singular spectrum analysis (SSA) isolated low-dimensional, deterministic signals in K. brevis log10-density dynamics and in the dynamics of nine of 10 candidate drivers. The predominantly seasonal K. brevis signal was strong, explaining 77.6% of the total variance in the observed time series. Causal tests with convergent cross-mapping provided evidence that nitrogen concentrations measured at the discharge point of the Caloosahatchee River systematically influenced K. brevis bloom dynamics. However, further causal testing failed to link these nitrogen dynamics to an upstream basin, possibly due to data limitations. The results support the hypothesis that anthropogenic nitrogen runoff facilitated the growth of K. brevis blooms near Charlotte Harbor and suggest that bloom events would be mitigated by nitrogen source and transport controls within the Caloosahatchee and/or Kissimmee River basins. More broadly, this work demonstrates that management-relevant causal inferences into the drivers of HABs may be drawn from available monitoring records.


Miles Medina is an environmental scientist and data engineer at Wood Environment and Infrastructure Solutions in Gainesville, FL, where he focuses on developing data management and analysis tools for air and water quality, including the EPA’s national ambient air quality monitoring network (CASTNET) and stormwater treatment and water quality restoration projects throughout Florida. He earned a PhD in 2019 at the University of Florida’s Department for Agricultural & Biological Engineering, where he developed expertise in chaos and causality in complex ecohydrological systems.

Seminar postcard