03 Oct 2023

Welcome to the inaugural edition of our EuroMarine Researchers in the Spotlight series, where we engage in captivating conversations with prominent researchers within our network.

For this article, we sat together with Keith Davidson, an expert on harmful algal blooms (HABs), who led the GlobalHAB Foresight Workshop on "Modelling and Prediction of Harmful Algal Blooms, from Event Responses to Multi - Decadal Projections". In the interview, he sheds light on the far-reaching impacts of Harmful Algal Blooms.

The workshop titled "Modelling and Prediction of Harmful Algal Blooms, from Event Responses to Multi-Decadal Projections" was aimed at addressing the challenges posed by harmful algal blooms (HABs) in aquatic ecosystems.

HABs can cause significant economic, ecological, and health impacts, making their understanding and prediction crucial for sustainable ocean management. The workshop aligned with the GlobalHAB initiative, which aims to improve understanding, prediction, management, and mitigation of HABs.

It also synergized with projects like AtlantOS, CoClime, MARBioFEED, and PRIMROSE, all focusing on ocean observation, modelling, and the impacts of global change.

This Foresight Workshop fostered collaboration, innovation, and knowledge exchange among experts and stakeholders who worked to mitigate the challenges posed by harmful algal blooms.


Keith Davidson has a background in physics but has become increasingly interested in phytoplankton since he first started to attempt to model their growth as an undergraduate.

He now has wide interests related to marine microbes and marine biogeochemistry in terms of better understanding the factors that govern cell growth, interactions between organisms and the cycling of carbon and nutrient in marine pelagic environments.

Currently, the main focus of his research is related to harmful algal blooms (HABs). These events are caused by a range of phytoplankton genera and can negatively impact human, other mammal or fish health through the production of natural biotoxins and other mechanisms. His research centers on how the physical/chemical/biological environment governs these HAB events.

This increased understanding is used to develop methods, including models and other risk assessment tools, that provide early warning of HAB events for aquaculture, regulators and the public.

EuroMarine: Could you briefly introduce the research topic that your Foresight Workshop focused on and describe its significance in the field of marine science?

The Foresight workshop was focused on the "Modelling and Prediction of Harmful Algal Blooms". Harmful algal blooms are a threat to human health, aquaculture and human use of the aquatic ecosystem. Methods for their prediction are urgently required.

Harmful Algae Blooms, with their potential to trigger economic, ecological, and health crises, were the central concern. The workshop found alignment with the GlobalHAB initiative, which strives to enhance our grasp of HABs, and synergies with projects like AtlantOS, CoClime, MARBioFEED, and PRIMROSE, all emphasizing ocean observation, modeling, and the consequences of global change.

The workshop played a vital role in bringing together experts and stakeholders to confront the multifaceted challenges posed by HABs.

EuroMarine: How did the Foresight Workshop contribute to the evolution and advancement of your research topic? Did it help identify new directions, methodologies, or emerging issues that were previously overlooked?

As this workshop was the first global workshop dedicated to HAB modeling since 2009, it was a milestone event. It enabled the synthesis of the current state-of-the-art, introduction of novel techniques like metagenomics, and bridging of scientific disciplines through linkages with remote sensing.

Looking ahead to 2050, the workshop envisioned new directions and techniques, highlighting the growing role of artificial intelligence in environmental science.

EuroMarine: What were the main outcomes or key findings that emerged from your Foresight Workshop? How did these outcomes shape your research trajectory or provide new insights into the topic?

The workshop developed thinking in two areas that we hope to develop into position papers:

  1. Stakeholders and system-building
  2. The continuum of process-based and machine-learning methods in HAB prediction.

These insights are expected to evolve into position papers, driving the field forward.

EuroMaarine: Did your Foresight Workshop lead to any follow-up actions or collaborations? Have you applied for additional funding to further develop your research? If yes, could you describe the subsequent projects or initiatives that resulted from the workshop?

Collaborative efforts catalyzed by the workshop led to tangible results. Notably, the Interred EU Atlantic area PRIMROSE project secured extended funding, aided by the engagement of PRIMROSE scientists who participated in the workshop.

EuroMarine: Have you presented your research findings to policy makers or other stakeholders in the marine science community? If yes, how did the Foresight Workshop contribute to the development of your research into actionable insights for policy or decision-making?

We have regular dialogue with aquaculture companies related to the mitigation of harmful algal blooms to safeguard human and fish health. The workshop was valuable in allowing the synthesis of modelling methods available to support this industry.

EuroMarine: Looking back, how would you assess the overall impact of the Foresight Workshop on your research and career? Did it open up new opportunities, enhance your visibility, or lead to further collaborations beyond the initial workshop?

The workshop contained sessions on the use of AI. Given the explosion of the use of these approaches in environmental science, these activities were particularly useful in developing collaborative links between relevant researcher who currently or in the future wish to use these techniques.

EuroMarine: What advice or suggestions would you give to future Foresight Workshop leads in terms of maximizing the benefits and outcomes of the workshop?

My advice to future Foresight Workshop leaders resonates with inclusivity and diversity. The conscious decision to include early career researchers from developing countries substantially enriched discussions, emphasizing the importance of fostering a varied and vibrant research community.

Relevance to EuroMarine Objectives

The workshop aligned with the EuroMarine Ocean Frontiers Manifesto by addressing the challenges of managing ocean complexity, securing coastal areas, targeting ocean and human health, and protecting ocean commons. It also contributed to UN Sustainable Development Goals related to poverty reduction, hunger, health, sustainable cities, climate action, and life below water.