Low-cost sensor network for HABs

A Low-Cost Sensor Network for Early Detection of Alexandrium and Heterosigma Harmful Algal Blooms in the Puget Sound Region

This project deployed a new imager network to collect and disseminate continuous, broad-scale data on harmful algal blooms to improve detection, monitoring, and mitigation processes.

Principal Investigator

Daniel Grünbaum, University of Washington, School of Oceanography

Co-Principal Investigator

Christopher MacGregor, Wallingford Imaging Systems


Harmful algal blooms (HABs) have significant impacts on Washington’s marine ecosystems and resources. The researchers have used new imaging technologies to develop inexpensive, field-tested remote sensors that monitor and measure two major HAB species, and gather potentially important data on other marine species. This project will deploy a HAB sensor network across Puget Sound, streaming real-time data via the NANOOS and portals and providing early warnings to shellfish growers, tribal harvesters, and other HAB-affected stakeholders.

Research Updates


In 2018, nearly 95 percent of the shellfish industry experienced mass die-offs likely linked to algal toxins, resulting in dire economic impacts to Washington’s shellfish industry. Toxic algae recently expanded into new habitats and extended blooming seasons, further endangering the shellfish industry.


In 2016, researchers developed low-cost camera systems for monitoring marine environments. In 2018, they constructed ~60 of these remote sensors capable of uploading data in real time or logging on GPS-tracked drifting platforms. They also developed low-cost 3D printable arrays to systematically quantify phototaxis in zooplankton exposed to HAB toxins, hypoxia, ocean acidification and other stresses. Researchers and students deployed instruments in 28 locations. They recorded +10,000 real-time environmental sensor samples from the instruments, including images, video, temperature and light data and developed three newer low-cost instrument prototypes for remote sensing of marine invertebrate larvae, measurements of current velocity and quantifying impacts of HAB toxins on plankton. They worked with ~100 teachers and developed curricular materials and teacher training guidelines.