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Megan Gannon
Applied Sciences Program Writer

Harmful algal blooms are detected off the coast of California throughout the year. These blooms can make shellfish dangerous to eat, but NASA satellite data can guide safer harvests of mussels and oysters.

It's important for public officials to know exactly when the levels will turn toxic. That’s why NASA-funded researchers created the (C-HARM) tool.

Some phytoplankton species produce a neurotoxin called domoic acid. These phytoplankton are usually present at moderate levels in the Santa Barbara Channel. But when they build up in high concentrations in shellfish, they can be harmful to humans.

 C-HARM makes predictions about toxin levels using models and ocean satellite data. Sampling at piers along the coast and offshore helps confirm these forecasts. Now, various groups use C-HARM to manage coastal resources. For example, the West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network can use the maps to help predict marine mammal stranding events.

two side-by-side maps of the Calfornia coast show swirls of red and yellow, representing domoic acid, in the blue ocean water
These maps show the probability of higher domoic acid concentrations during an extreme event in May 2017 compared to more moderate levels predicted in November 2017. Credits: NASA Earth Observatory/Joshua Stevens

More information available at the NASA Earth Observatory story Using Scientific Muscle to Grow Safer Mussels.

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