loading page

Are Cyanobacterial Blooms Common in the Coastal Waters of Alaska?
  • Anindita Das,
  • Ajit Subramaniam,
  • Alex Whiting
Anindita Das
Barnard College, Barnard College

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

Author Profile
Ajit Subramaniam
Gordon and Betty Moore Found, Gordon and Betty Moore Found
Author Profile
Alex Whiting
Native Village of Kotzebue, Native Village of Kotzebue
Author Profile


The community of Kotzebue, located on the coast of Kotzebue Sound, which is northeast of the Bering Straits adjacent to the Chukchi Sea, is reliant on the waters around Kotzebue Sound for food and economy. There have been reports of cyanobacterial blooms in these waters around Kotzebue but they have not been systematically studied yet, because the region is sparsely populated with few in-situ observations. Cyanobacteria often form surface blooms in freshwater and coastal ecosystems which can be detected using remote sensing techniques. Cyanobacteria are found to have low nutritional value and many species of cyanobacteria produce cyanotoxins, and thus can be harmful to aquatic life and cause public health hazards. In addition, consumption of decaying cyanobacterial blooms by microbes depletes oxygen level which can lead to hypoxia, adversely impacting the benthic community. As the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet due to climate change, thawing permafrost is releasing nutrients that might be enhancing cyanobacterial blooms in the coastal, marine and lacustrine waters of Alaska. In this study, we used remote sensing to study phytoplankton biomass, turbidity and cyanobacterial blooms between mid-June to end of September each year from 2013 to 2019 when the waters around Kotzebue are ice-free. Using images from Landsat-8 and Sentinel-2, processed using ACOLITE software, we investigated spatial and temporal changes in water quality parameters such as turbidity and chlorophyll concentration between June and September. We used a combination of true-color images and fai (floating algal index) to detect cyanobacterial blooms. There were about two scenes from Sentinel-2 and about one scene from Landsat-8, for a total of about three scenes every week between June and September. Of these, only 49% of the images were cloud-free. Of the cloud-free images, 29% were found to have a cyanobacterial bloom between August and September for an average of two to four scenes every year. Most of the cyanobacterial blooms were detected in Kobuk Lake near Kotzebue, and nearby sites in Hotham Inlet and Selawik Lake. In 2013, 68% of the images were cloudy which was the highest in the observed years and no cyanobacterial blooms were detected.