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Severe algae bloom forecast

GIBRALTER ISLAND – Plenty of spring rain has led scientists to predict a severe harmful algal bloom season in western Lake Erie, possibly coming in second to a record set in 2011.

Using a 10-point scale introduced last year, the bloom is expected to reach 8.7 with a range of 8.1 to 9.5 in severity. The maximum value of 10 corresponds to the 2011 bloom.

This season is expected to exceed last year’s 6.5.

“While we are forecasting a severe bloom, much of the lake will be fine most of the time,” said Richard Stumpf, NOAA’s ecological forecasting applied research lead at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “The bloom will develop from west to east in the Lake Erie western basin, beginning this month. It is important to note that these effects will vary with winds, and will peak in September.”

Stumpf made the prediction during a webinar Thursday hosted by the Ohio Sea Grant from Ohio State University’s Stone Lab on Lake Erie.

The algal blooms are a concern because the toxic bacteria (which isn’t technically algae) causes health risks.

The effects of cyanobacterial blooms include higher costs to treat drinking water, health risks to swimmers at Lake Erie beaches in high concentration areas and potential problems for boaters.

However, effects vary throughout the year, depending on factors such as wind and water temperature, peaking in August or September.

“This is the fourth seasonal harmful algal bloom outlook for Lake Erie that NOAA has issued,” said Holly Bamford, assistant NOAA administrator for the National Ocean Service performing duties of the assistant secretary of commerce for conservation and management. “NOAA’s ecological forecasting initiative, including this Lake Erie seasonal forecast, the NOAA weekly HAB bulletin and the experimental early season HABs Tracker, provide science-based information that water managers, public health officials and others need to make critical decisions to protect the health of their communities, understand environmental impacts and mitigate damages to recreational activities that are a vital part of the region’s economy.”

The forecast uses spring nutrient loading as its basis because HABs bloom when high nutrient concentrations are present in the lake. After a relatively dry April and May this year, June’s record rains into the Maumee and Sandusky rivers led to the forecast.

Models were developed by scientists at NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science and NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory. They use nutrient load data collected by Heidelberg University’s National Center for Water Quality Research.

“Last summer’s Toledo water crisis was a wake-up call to the serious nature of harmful algal blooms in America’s waters,” said Jeff Reutter, recently retired director of the Sea Grant program and Stone Lab. “This forecast once again focuses attention on this issue, and the urgent need to take action to address the problems caused by excessive amounts of nutrients from fertilizer, manure and sewage flowing into our lakes and streams.”

Anyone can follow HAB risks by subscribing to NOAA’s HAB tracker at the Great Lakes Water Quality website, www.glerl.noaa.gov/res/

waterquality. Bulletins are released twice a week.

More information on the size and movement of the bloom is to be revealed as summer progresses, through field observations on water quality and sample collection by NOAA, the Sea Grant Program and Heidelberg’s NCWQR.

In April, NOAA, NASA, EPA and the U.S. Geological Survey announced a $3.6 million multi-agency research effort designed to be an early warning system for freshwater nuisance and toxic algal blooms by using satellites that can gather color data from freshwater bodies during scans of the Earth. The project will improve the understanding of the environmental causes and health effects of cyanobacteria and phytoplankton blooms.