One of the problems with the Chesapeake Bay is the prevalence of “dead zones,” areas so low in dissolved oxygen they can’t support life. Here’s how they happen: the Bay has an overabundance of chemical nutrients (which sounds like a good thing, but it’s not). This overabundance spurs something of an algae baby boom, rapidly increasing the density of the single-celled plant-like organisms. Though these algae release oxygen during daylight, they deplete it overnight in cellular respiration. These algae blooms eventually bring oxygen levels so low that fish and other aquatic animals can’t survive there.
Now personally, I have a strict policy of not negotiating with oxygen-depleting phytoplankton. But the people at the Algal Ecothechnology Center at the University of Maryland have a plan for for overturning these dead zones that employs the very algae that create them.
Patrick Kangas, director of the Algal Ecotechnology Center, explains it as “basically a controlled algae bloom.” Water from the harbor is pumped through a channel containing algae, which steal nutrients — remember, that’s a good thing — and even add a little oxygen before the water is sent back out into the harbor.
Right now, this “algal turf scrubber” is being tried out in a little canal cul-de-sac by the Living Classrooms. But for this technique to to clean the Chesapeake by itself, Kangas estimates we would need thousands of acres of these controlled blooms. So, um, we’ll see.