Whenever I think about algae, I think about the slick, slimy green stuff that used to color the permanent puddles in my next-door neighbor’s driveway. They were there all year around, unless there was a serious drought, and even then the green gunk dried like a strand of pretty marble in the cracked earth.
The thing about blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, is there’s really nothing pretty about it anymore. The technical name alone sounds rather devious, and really, it is. In fact, blue-green algae is a photosynthetic bacteria that can pose serious human health risks, like amyotrophics lateral sclerosis–a neurodegenerative disease that destroys the body’s voluntary muscle control.
Scientists believe cyanobacteria’s ability to perform oxygenic photosynthesis may have been the responsible factor in creating diverse life forms on Earth, so I guess we should thank it. On the other hand, these days we’re not really looking to further branch out into new species.
Despite being a necessary part of the oceanic nitrogen cycle, algal blooms can severely damage the world’s water quality when they get out of control. In my mind, I picture turning on the drinking water facet and seeing nothing but slimy algae pouring forth, though that’s obviously not going to happen.
Especially now that water organizations in Australia are kicking off a three-year program experimenting with low-frequency ultrasound waves to kill massive algal blooms. Researchers are currently testing amplitudes to determine the best frequency to control cyanobacterial outbreaks, and have already proven the method works. Currently, high-frequency sound waves are used in sewage treatment facilities, but cannot be used in fresh water.
At low amplitudes, sound waves have the power to immobilize blue-green algae blooms without releasing their toxins into the water source. How would they do this? By building underwater ultrasound generators, of course. The mixers would pull water through for treatment and release it clean of cyanobacteria.
The fact of the matter is, current methods to treat algal blooms include chemical treatment, which adversely affects the quality of our freshwater resources. Not only do they negatively impact the wildlife, but I know I don’t want to fill my drinking glass with a bunch of nasty chemicals either.
I do find myself wondering how these underwater generators will affect plant and animal life within the water sources. And then my brain goes another step, almost backwards to the notion that blue-green algae helped life forms diversify. If we let them grow, would the human body adapt and evolve to accommodate the toxins they put out, or they eventually wipe us out to make room for something new?