Harmful algae bloom forecast

GIBRALTER ISLAND – A significant harmful algal bloom is forecast for the western basin of Lake Erie this summer.

The forecast was announced by a group of scientists Thursday morning during a news conference hosted by Ohio State University’s Stone Lab, a research station near Put-in-Bay.

On a new numbering system which rates blooms on a scale of 1-10, this year’s bloom is estimated to be a 5 or 6.

“This does not mean all of western Lake Erie will have a problem,” said Rick Stumpf of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a nationally known HAB expert. “If (the wind is) calm, there will be places with scum. That is to be expected.”

He reviewed the last few years of HABs with 2011’s mega-bloom as the baseline to which others are compared.

“2012’s forecast was a mild bloom as expected,” Stumpf said. “2013 was much worse than we expected.”

He said variable factors play a part.

“Temperatures in June and July seem to have a great effect,” he said.

And the wind blowing bacteria around makes it seem worse in some areas than others.

The four scientists who compared notes to make the forecast agreed the severity could increase if the rest of July is wet and causes more nutrient runoff from the Sandusky and Maumee rivers.

Much of the forecast is based on data collected by Heidelberg University’s National Center for Water Quality Research. Researcher Laura Johnson provided background on the center’s data collection methods during her presentation.

“We had some big loading events early in the spring,” Johnson said. “Two really big rain events.”

During heavy rains, dissolved phosphorous is washed into the Sandusky and Maumee rivers, and eventually into the lake.

According to the four researchers who spoke, dissolved phosphorous is the main cause of HABs in Lake Erie. But other nutrients also play a part, said Justin Chaffin, a Stone Lab scientist studying HABs.