Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Environmental Sciences

First Advisor

Georgia Mavrommati

Second Advisor

Michael Tlusty

Third Advisor

Pam Di Bona


Harmful algal blooms have become an increasingly significant threat to the health of global water bodies in recent decades. The Lower Charles River (LCR) has experienced large-scale blooms every year for the last decade despite largely successful efforts by regulatory agencies to reduce nutrient inputs. Algal blooms pose a threat to both local ecosystems and local communities; reduced access to recreation resulting from more frequent water safety advisories has a direct impact on human well-being and the overall perception of the region. To better understand the interactions between human activity and the variables that dictate algal growth, this work revolves around the creation of a system dynamics model with three sectors: phosphorous inputs to the study area, cyanobacteria growth patterns, and human well-being. The utility of this model is two-fold: (i) understanding the magnitude of influence certain variables have on other parts of the system provides valuable insights into how to best prevent or reduce the prevalence of harmful algal blooms in the study area and (ii) translation of the model into a user-friendly interface provides a tool with the potential to both raise general awareness and clearly communicate the issues at play to policymakers and the general public. Previous work modeling algal blooms focused primarily on ecological data without including quantified metrics of how the human experience may be impacted. The model presented here is unique in its use of proxies to indicate human well-being as a quantifiable variable. Initial findings include the degree to which certain inputs of phosphorous influence the presence and growth rates of cyanobacteria, the effects population growth and associated changes in land use have on the amount of phosphorous contributed to the system, and how cyanobacteria levels directly impact the percentage of the year residents and visitors can safely practice normal usage patterns.


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