Global warming could spur toxic algae, bacteria in seas

Global warming could spur the growth of toxic algae and bacteria in the world’s seas and lakes, with an impact that could be felt in 10 years, US scientists said Saturday.

Studies have shown that shifts brought about by climate change make ocean and freshwater environments more susceptible to toxic algae blooms and allow harmful microbes and bacteria to proliferate, according to researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

In one study, NOAA scientists modeled future ocean and weather patterns to predict the effect on blooms of Alexandrium catenella, or the toxic “red tide,” which can accumulate in shellfish and cause severe symptoms, including paralysis, in humans who eat the contaminated seafood.

“Our projections indicate that by the end of the 21st century, blooms may begin up to two months earlier in the year and persist for one month later compared to the present-day time period of July to October,” said Stephanie Moore, one of the scientists who worked on the study.

But the impact could be felt well before the end of this century — as early as 2040, she said at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“Changes in the harmful algal bloom season appear to be imminent. We expect a significant increase in Puget Sound (off the coast of Washington state where the study was conducted) and similar at-risk environments within 30 years, possibly by the next decade,” said Moore.

In another study, NOAA scientists found that desert dust, which contains iron, deposited into the ocean from the atmosphere could lead to increases of harmful bacteria in the seawater.

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