PASADENA, Calif. (KABC) -- It was the largest algal bloom on record and it took place in June off the California coast.
The planktonic algae made the water look green while producing a toxin. Seals, sea lions and dolphins eat fish that have eaten these algae, therefore hundreds died as a result.
"These harmful algal blooms are getting worse," said Michelle Gierach, the deputy chief for Earth Science and Technology at NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "They're getting more intense, more frequent, longer in duration."
Using satellite data, Gierach and other scientists created new ways to study the changes in the ocean.
"That's where satellites come in to play and remote sensing," she said. "It can help sort of the boots-on-the-ground efforts, but looking at it from a space view, providing a much better picture how this thing is changing in space and time."
Satellites can even measure color and temperature changes. A lot of the increase in algal bloom is caused by what we dump into the ocean, runoff, fertilizer and climate change.
"We're getting increased ocean temperatures, changes in ocean circulation, but also, due to human influences, we're getting a lot more nutrients ... things dumped into the water, so all of this creates a perfect storm,if you will, for these massive blooms," said Gierach.
This has happened for decades in the warm waters off the Florida Coast, but we are seeing it more and more in California.
"We're getting some along the coast. It's a different species and also within the freshwater bodies like Salton Sea, Pinto Lake up north, Clear Lake, we're seeing more and more species," said Gierach.
Some of these species have a very potent neuro toxin that can also cause health issues in humans, including breathing and gastrointestinal problems. Unfortunately, it's working its way through the food chain.
"If you're having a harmful algal bloom that's developing ... other things are eating that, therefore then it trickles up the system to us, so that clearly shows that maybe you have an unhealthy ecosystem overall," said Gierach.
For the future, scientists would like more satellites and tools to monitor the changes. They say unfortunately, we still do not know enough about what is happening in our own backyard.