April 5, 2022 – Ames, Iowa – Dr. Corey Markfort, Assistant Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Iowa, led a study with collaborators at the University of Iowa and the Iowa Lakeside laboratory to better understand harmful algal bloom development at the Iowa Great Lakes.

The research, sponsored by the Iowa Water Center, sought to address a major challenge water managers face in the detection and management of harmful algal blooms. The presence of harmful algal blooms in lakes and streams can lead to beach closures, degraded aquatic ecosystems, and limit the availability of safe drinking water. The area of study for this project included West Okoboji, East Okoboji, and Big Spirit Lake, known as the Iowa Great Lakes located in northwest Iowa.

The goal of the data collection and analysis was to look at the distribution of water quality variables, including oxygen and nutrients, and distribution of invasive aquatic plants, and investigate relationships with timing of weather events and the formation of algal blooms. Analysis of water quality parameters from the chain of lakes at the Iowa Great Lakes from 2000 until 2020 revealed trends in water quality and algal bloom events that are related to increased air and water temperatures, and stronger weather events. Significant weather events that had an impact on harmful algal blooms development in the lakes were especially tied to increased spring rain events and late summer drought.

The long-term vision for this research is to develop a comprehensive lake systems water quality model for the Iowa Great Lakes region to inform stakeholders of the risk of HAB toxins and alert lake visitors and residents of dangerous swimming conditions. This project helped launch a new state-wide initiative funded by the Office of the Vice President for Research at the University of Iowa. The “Iowa Healthy Lakes Initiative: A multidimensional approach to measuring, informing, and solving Iowa’s Harmful Algal Bloom Challenge” is led by a multidisciplinary team of researchers from environmental engineering, sustainability, political science, business, and public health.

Read full research findings here.


The Iowa Water Center: The Iowa Water Center is a federally funded organization, part of the National Institutes for Water Resources. Located on the Iowa State University campus, it is one of 54 institutes located throughout the United States and U.S territories. The purpose of the Iowa Water Center is to identify water-related research needs, provide outreach and education opportunities, and disseminate information about Iowa’s water resources to the public to form better policies and everyday practices.


Information contact: Laura Frescoln, iowawatercenter@iastate.edu