The University of Michigan has received a $6.5 million, five-year federal grant to host a center dedicated to examining the interconnections between climate change, harmful algal blooms in the Great Lakes, and human health. This center, originally founded at Bowling Green State University, focuses on studying cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms (cHABs), which are becoming more prevalent due to climate-related factors such as increased precipitation and warmer lake temperatures. These blooms are a concern because cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, produce toxins that can harm humans, pets, and wildlife.

Under the direction of environmental microbiologist and EARTH Professor Gregory Dick, the Great Lakes Center for Fresh Waters and Human Health will pursue an expanded array of research projects, building on the findings of more than 70 scientific papers published by the center’s researchers since 2018. Notably, the center will investigate how cyanobacterial toxins can become airborne and the potential health risks they pose when inhaled, especially for vulnerable populations with conditions like asthma.

“Toxic cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms are a growing threat to freshwater ecosystems, drinking water supplies and coastal communities worldwide, and the Great Lakes are ground zero for the climate-induced intensification of these blooms,” said Dick.

Existing center-funded projects will continue, including studies on how climate change affects cHABs' proliferation and toxin production, and exploring the diversity and potential effects of cyanobacterial toxins. Moreover, the center will develop new technologies for monitoring and forecasting cHABs, including the deployment of an autonomous vehicle for sampling in Lake Erie.

With a commitment to community engagement, the center aims to connect its scientific findings with stakeholders, enhance public health, and protect drinking water sources. Results from the center’s research will contribute to the development of policies designed to mitigate the threats of cHABs on a global scale. The collaborative effort involves more than 28 faculty members and numerous students from partnering institutions, focusing on understanding and addressing the serious challenges posed by cHABs to freshwater systems, economies, and human health.

You can find more information about the Great Lakes Center for Fresh Waters and Human Health here.