Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Marine Science

Major Professor

Frank E. Muller-Karger


detection techniques, Karenia brevis, Ocean color, red tides, Yucatan Peninsula


Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) are natural phenomena that can have negative impacts on marine ecosystems on which human health and the economy of some Gulf States depends. Many of the HABs in the GOM are dominated by the toxic dinoflagellate Karenia brevis. Non-toxic phytoplankton taxa such as Scrippsiella sp. also form intense blooms off the Mexican coast that result in massive fish mortality and economic losses, particularly as they may lead to anoxia.

The main objectives of this dissertation were to (1) evaluate and improve the techniques developed for detection of Karenia spp. blooms on the West Florida Shelf (WFS) using satellite remote sensing methods, (2) test the use of these methods for waters in the GOM, and (3) use the output of these techniques to better understand the dynamics and evolution of Karenia spp. blooms in the WFS and off Mexico.

The first chapter of this dissertation examines the performance of several Karenia HABs detection techniques using Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) satellite images and historical ground truth observations collected on the WFS from August 2002 to December 2011. A total of 2323 in situ samples collected by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute to test for Karenia spp. matched pixels with valid ocean color satellite observations over this period. This dataset was used to systematically optimize variables and coefficients used in five published HAB detection methods. Each technique was tested using a set of metrics that included the F-Measure (FM). Before optimization, the average FM for all techniques was 0.47. After optimization, the average FM increased to 0.59, and false positives decreased ~50%. The addition of a Fluorescence Line Height (FLH) criterion improved the performance of every method. A new practical method was developed using a combination of FLH and Remote Sensing Reflectance at 555 nm (Rrs555-FLH). The new method resulted in an FM of 0.62 and 3% false negatives, similar to those from more complex techniques. The first chapter concludes with a series of recommendations on how to improve the detection techniques and how to take these results a step further into a Gulf wide observing systems for HABs.

In chapter two, ocean color techniques were used to examine the extension, evolution and displacement of four Karenia spp. events that occurred in the WFS between 2004 and 2011. Blooms were identified in the imagery using the new Rrs-FLH method and validated using in situ phytoplankton cell counts. The spatial extension of each event was followed in time by delineating the blooms. In 2004 and 2005, the WFS was affected by a series of hurricanes that led to high river discharge and intense sediment resuspension events. Both processes had an impact on HAB occurrence. For example, I tracked a Karenia spp. bloom found in late December 2004 approximately 40-80 km offshore Saint Petersburg, which then expanded reaching an extension of >8000 km2 in February 2005. The bloom weakened in spring 2005 and intensified again in summer reaching >42,000 km2 after the passage of hurricane Katrina in August 2005. This bloom covered the WFS from Charlotte Harbor to the Florida Panhandle. Two other cases were studied in the WFS. The results of the Hybrid Coordinate Ocean Model from the U.S. Navy aid understanding the dispersal of the blooms.

During fall 2011, three field campaigns to study HABs in Mexico were conducted to do an analysis of optical properties and explore the possibility of using ocean color techniques to distinguish between the main phytoplankton blooms in that region. Three main bloom scenarios were observed in the Campeche Bank region: massive diatom blooms, blooms dominated by Scrippsiella spp., and Karenia spp. blooms. The normalized specific phytoplankton absorption spectra were found to be different for Karenia spp. and Scrippsiella sp. blooms. A new technique that combines phytoplankton absorption derived from MODIS data and the new technique developed in Chapter One showed potential for a detection technique that can distinguish between Karenia and Scrippsiella blooms.

Additional work is needed to improve the new technique developed for Mexican waters, but results show potential for detection techniques that can be used Gulf-wide. This will help better understand the dynamic and possible connectivity of phytoplankton blooms in the GOM.