Spatial and Temporal Variability of Harmful Algal Blooms in Milford Lake, Kansas, May through November 2016

Scientific Investigations Report 2018-5166
Prepared in cooperation with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment
By: , and 

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Abstract

The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE), completed a study to quantify the spatial and temporal variability of cyanobacterial blooms in Milford Lake, Kansas, over a range of environmental conditions at various time scales (hours to months). A better understanding of the spatial and temporal variability of cyanobacteria and microcystin will inform sampling and management strategies for Milford Lake and for other lakes with cyanobacterial harmful algal bloom (CyanoHAB) issues throughout the Nation. Spatial and temporal variability were assessed in the upstream one-third of Milford Lake (designated as “Zone C” by KDHE) during May through November 2016 using a combination of time-lapse photography, continuous water-quality monitors, discrete phytoplankton, chlorophyll, and microcystin samples, and spatially dense near-surface data. Combined, these data were used to characterize variability of cyanobacterial abundance, algal biomass, and microcystin concentrations in Zone C of Milford Lake before, during, and after cyanobacterial blooms in 2016.

Temporal patterns were evaluated during May through November 2016 using time-lapse photography at six locations in Zone C and at a single point location (the Wakefield site) using a combination of discrete and continuously measured water-quality data (including the cyanobacterial pigment phycocyanin). Based on time-lapse photography, CyanoHABs developed in Zone C of Milford Lake in early July and persisted through the end of November. Bloom accumulations at individual sites were dependent on wind direction. After a change in wind direction, it would take about 1 day for accumulations to become visible at different locations. During periods with low wind, accumulations were widespread and visible at all sites. Cyanobacteria were absent from the algal community at the Wakefield site in late May and were a minor component of the community in June; however, by mid-July the cyanobacteria were dominant and remained dominant until early November.

Chlorophyll and microcystin concentrations at the Wakefield site were estimated using sensor-measured phycocyanin based on regression models developed for Zone C. Regression-estimated concentrations likely are more indicative of seasonal patterns in algal biomass (as indicated by chlorophyll concentrations) and microcystin than discretely collected samples because regression-estimated data have a much higher temporal resolution. Based on regression estimates, algal biomass and microcystin concentrations at the Wakefield site steadily increased from May through August. After August, concentrations decreased but remained relatively high compared to May and June. Daily chlorophyll maxima were as much as 400 times higher than daily minima, and daily microcystin maxima were as many as several orders of magnitude higher than daily minima. The extreme variability in algal biomass and microcystin concentrations at the Wakefield site reflects the development and dissipation of blooms, as indicated by the time-lapse cameras.

Based on regression-estimated microcystin concentrations, the KDHE watch and warning thresholds for microcystin were exceeded during mid-June through late November. Exceedance of KDHE advisory thresholds often changed from no advisory to watch or warning over the course of the day because of the variability in algal biomass and microcystin concentrations caused by bloom development and dissipation. Continuous water-quality monitors may be useful in informing public-health decisions in lakes with variable CyanoHAB conditions; however, site-specific models need to be developed, and best practices for using continuous water-quality monitors to inform CyanoHAB management strategies need to be established.

Spatial data were collected on May 26, July 21, and September 15, 2016, using a combination of a boat-mounted array and discrete water-quality samples analyzed for phytoplankton community composition and chlorophyll and microcystin concentrations. Spatial patterns were described using regression-estimated chlorophyll and microcystin concentrations. During the May 26, 2016, spatial surveys, cyanobacterial abundances were relatively low throughout Zone C and did not exceed KDHE guidance values compared to spatial surveys on July 21 and September 15. Regression-estimated chlorophyll concentrations were indicative of higher algal biomass uplake in Zone C, and decreases in the downlake direction towards Zone B. Regression-estimated chlorophyll concentrations also were more variable uplake than downlake. Based on regression estimates, microcystin concentrations did not exceed KDHE guidance values anywhere in Zone C on May 26. Spatial patterns in microcystin throughout Zone C did not match patterns in regression-estimated chlorophyll concentrations, likely because the algal community was not dominated by cyanobacteria at most locations in May.

During the July 21, 2016, spatial surveys, cyanobacterial abundances in Zone C exceeded KDHE guidance values in 50 percent of samples. The algal community in Zone C was dominated by cyanobacteria at all locations except two, where cyanobacteria codominated with diatoms. Both locations where cyanobacteria and diatoms codominated were north of the causeway. Regression-estimated chlorophyll concentrations were indicative of higher algal biomass north of the causeway and on the eastern shore of Zone C. On July 21, algal biomass did not always decrease in the downlake direction. There was a decrease just south of the causeway but an increase shortly after with higher concentrations into Zone B. Spatial maps indicated changes in algal distribution at a 0.5-meter depth, with algae moving to the central part of the lake north of the causeway and along the eastern shore south of the causeway. Most regression-estimated microcystin concentrations on July 21 exceeded KDHE guidance values, reflecting the pervasive bloom conditions in Zone C during this period. Spatial patterns in regression-estimated microcystin concentrations throughout Zone C were similar to patterns seen in discrete samples and regression-estimated chlorophyll concentrations, with higher concentrations north of the causeway and on the east shore of Zone C.

During the September 15, 2016, spatial surveys, cyanobacterial abundances did not exceed KDHE guidance values. The algal community north of the causeway was dominated by diatoms. The algal community throughout the rest of Zone C was dominated by cyanobacteria. Of regression-estimated microcystin concentrations on September 15, 80 percent did not exceed KDHE guidance values. Spatial patterns indicated northward movement of the cyanobacterial bloom consistent with a wind shift noted the previous day. On September 14, winds were generally from the north to northwest, shifting to the south by September 15. There was a northward progression of chlorophyll and microcystin during the spatial surveys. These data, along with the camera data and spatial and wind data from May and July, indicate that wind can be a major driver of the spatial and temporal variability of cyanobacterial blooms in Milford Lake and likely plays a role in the extent and duration of near-shore accumulations.

Suggested Citation

Foster, G.M., Graham, J.L., and King, L.R., 2019, Spatial and temporal variability of harmful algal blooms in Milford Lake, Kansas, May through November 2016: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2018–5166, 36 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/sir20185166.

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Purpose and Scope
  • Description of Study Area
  • Methods
  • Results for Time-Lapse Photography
  • Seasonal Patterns at the Wakefield Site
  • Spatial and Temporal Variability
  • Summary
  • References Cited
  • Appendix 1. Model Archival Summary for Chlorophyll Concentration at Milford Lake, May 26, June 9, July 14, July 21, and September 15, 2016
  • Appendix 2. Model Archival Summary for Total Microcystin Concentration at Milford Lake, May 26, June 9, July 14, July 21, and September 15, 2016

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Spatial and temporal variability of harmful algal blooms in Milford Lake, Kansas, May through November 2016
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2018-5166
DOI 10.3133/sir20185166
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Kansas Water Science Center
Description Report: vi, 36 p.; Appendixes: 28 p.; Data Releases: 4
Country United States
State Kansas
Other Geospatial Milford Lake
Online Only (Y/N) Y