Date of Award

January 2020

Degree Type

Open Access Thesis

Document Type

Master Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)



First Advisor

Cindy Tran

Department Affiliation


Second Advisor

Judith L. Jenkins

Department Affiliation


Third Advisor

Karim M. Abdel-Hay

Department Affiliation



Eastern Kentucky is home to many private ponds used for agricultural and recreational purposes. Each year, the owners of these ponds observe harmful algal blooms (HABs) that release toxins into the water, potentially limiting the use of these ponds. A pilot study in summer 2018 observed a harmful algal bloom (HAB) occurring in one pond in Madison Country that roughly correlated with a rise in water sulfate levels with no detectable levels of nitrate or phosphate present. A follow-up study of this pond and others in the area was conducted during Summer 2019. The purpose of this project was three-fold: 1) compare findings reported in literature for larger water sources to Kentucky water sources, 2) to identify trends in water nutrient levels and environmental conditions that would indicate the imminent formation of HABs in these water sources and 3) to determine if commercially-available test kits would provide adequate information for a lay person to monitor their private water sources and predict HAB formation.

To accomplish these aims, the nutrient levels and environmental conditions of 10 different water sources were monitored throughout summer 2019. Taxonomical characteristics identified the algae strain(s) present in potential HABs and nutrient level quantification was achieved using a combination of EPA-validated laboratory techniques for major anions (ion chromatography, EPA method 300), phosphates (spectrophotometry, EPA method 365.3), and turbidimetry (EPA method 180). Commercially available semi-quantitative kits from LaMotte and HACH were utilized as secondary measures of phosphates, nitrates, nitrites, and sulfates. Environmental conditions such as rainfall, water pH, dissolved oxygen, conductivity and temperature were also monitored. From this work, it was found that sulfate levels were not correlated HAB formation and confirmed that HABs can form in these water sources with nitrate and phosphate levels below detectable limits. While turbidity and dissolved oxygen levels were correlated with HAB formation, these are not causative of the HAB. Data mining using principal component analysis demonstrated the correlative relationships of tested variables and observed trends, though no conditions were shown to be clearly causative of HAB formation in these sources.