Scientist unsure how Hurricane Dorian could affect largest-ever algae bloom

Sargassum algae bloom Puerto Rico Culebra

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Sargassum algae bloom seaweed Puerto Rico Culebra

Sargassum floating at Playa Flamenco in Puerto Rico in 2015. By Seán Kinane.

Recently, University of South Florida researchers published their findings that the largest algae bloom ever seen peaked last summer in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean; the floating seaweed Sargassum formed a belt stretching more than 5,000 miles from nearly the coast of Africa to the Gulf of Mexico.

So, how will Hurricane Dorian affect the Sargassum algae bloom?

WMNF asked one of the scientists studying what’s called the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt at USF’s College of Marine Science, Dr. Mengqiu Wang.

“In the past we have analyzed very limited data and found that when the hurricane comes through the Sargassum major features can be disturbed. But … the major Sargassum features can re-form again. But those are just based on very limited observations. So we don’t know for sure. But it’s possible the hurricanes can disturb the features (of large Sargassum blooms) a little bit. But there’s also a possibility that they can reform later on.

“Also, another important factor: the hurricanes may have on Sargassum is the hurricane may stimulate – may bring the water from the deep sea to the surface ocean. So it can reach the surface ocean to fertilize – to nourish the Sargassum growth.”

Sargassum researcher scientist algae bloom

Mengqiu Wang holds a frozen sample of Sargassum. By Seán Kinane / WMNF News (29 Aug. 2019).

SK: Because there’s nutrients in the deep ocean water and that might get stirred up by the hurricane. And that might actually help to expand the Sargassum belt?

“Yeah, that’s true. Some of the nutrients may be utilized by the Sargassum eventually.”

SK: So maybe the best thing to say is that you’ll be studying it, but we don’t know for sure how Hurricane Dorian or other hurricanes will affect the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt?

“Yeah, that’s true. So, we still have a long way to go to understand that.”

WMNF also asked her how the massive number of wildfires in the Amazon Rain Forest could impact the giant Sargassum bloom.

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