MEDRC to Lead Major International HABs Research Project

Goal of Developing a Regional HABs Early Warning System

Middle East Desalination Research Center’s (MEDRC) Director, Ciarán Ó Cuinn today announced a major international research project to develop a regional HABs Early Warning System for the Gulf.

The project, entitled ‘Combatting the Emerging Impacts of Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) on Desalination Plants: Bloom Detection, Forecasting, and Strategies for Impact Reduction’ will commence immediately and end in January 2016.

Many arid countries are increasingly reliant on seawater desalination for drinking water and industrial purposes. An emerging threat to this critical need is from harmful algal blooms (HABs). Some HABs produce potent neurotoxins that can persist in treated water, threatening human health. Other HABs restrict operations by clogging intake filters, fouling surfaces, and compromising membranes.

Impacts can be severe, as seen during a 2008/2009 HAB in the Gulf of Oman that negatively affected multiple desalination plants, including one that had to cease operations for 55 days. To address this threat, MEDRC will coordinate a global research effort to develop capabilities for remote sensing, modeling, and forecasting to provide critical information to desalination plants about the presence and predicted transport pathways of algal blooms that occur in nearby coastal waters, and will provide operators with practical guidance on how to deal with these events as they occur.

The Initial focus of the remote sensing and forecasting effort will be along the coasts of Oman and the eastern UAE. To demonstrate the feasibility and utility of the approach, desalination plants in Barka and Fujairah will work with the team by providing historical operational data from past HAB events and, in the final phase of the project, real-time data as well.

MEDRC is working with leading researchers and institutions from Oman, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States. This project builds on the work and proceedings of the International Conference on the Impact of Red Tides and Harmful Algae Blooms that MEDRC, in partnership with the Oman Public Authority of Power and Water and UNESCO Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, held in April 2014 in Muscat.

The Principal Investigator for the project at MEDRC is Senior Science and Technology Adviser Kevin Price who will work with a team of international HAB scientists with expertise in HAB dynamics, remote sensing and numerical modeling and forecasting. Regional partners include SQU in Oman and Masdar in the UAE.

Direct project funding of more than $650,000 has been provided by USAID with many of the participating institutions making significant in-kind contributions.