NOAA predicts less severe Western Lake Erie algal blooms

Jul 5, 2023 | Ottawa Outdoors, Featured | 0 comments

Lake Erie walleye fishermen in the Huron area experience large algal blooms in 2017. (Photo by D’Arcy Patrick Egan)

BY D’ARCY PATRICK EGAN

Living along the shoreline of a Great Lake, especially the shallow waters of Western Lake Erie, changes in the weather are a constant. This year has been an anomaly. After a dreadful wet, chilly month of March, dry weather had set in during April, May and June.

The roller coaster ride of chilly spring temperatures and brisk winds made life difficult for fishermen, and the aggravating spring drought challenged farmers. But there was plenty of sunny weather in early May for the invasion of bird watchers for the Biggest Week in American Birding in and in late May for Port Clinton’s Walleye Festival and the return of boaters, summer residents and tourists.

That dry spell seems be a major bonus, according

to the NOAA forecast last week, for this year’s Lake Erie algal blooms, but keep your fingers crossed. While it has caused the experts this week to revise their predictions for the severity of this year’s harmful algal blooms (HABs) to 2 to 4.5 on a scale of 10 — a major improvement from last year’s 6.8 — big rains in July could still coat Lake Erie with the ugly green scum starting in late July.

The highest levels over the last two decades were a 10 in 2011 and 10.5 in 2015.

“While this spring has been quite dry, Lake Erie received a large nutrient load in March, which will produce at least a mild bloom this summer,” said Richard Stumpf, the lead NOAA scientist for the seasonal Lake Erie bloom forecast. “However, like recent years, we have a potential of an additional nutrient load in July, which could lead to a moderate bloom.”

The phosphorous that flows from livestock operations and farm fields in the Maumee River Basin into Lake Erie is the main culprit for the HABs. The daily blooms are monitored by testing Lake Erie waters and via satellite, which this past week has been difficult. Major smoke and haze from Canadian wildfires have rolled into the area, blocking the satellite view.

Lake Erie HABs consisting of cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, are capable of producing microcystin, a known liver toxin which poses a risk to human and wildlife health. Such blooms may force cities and local governments to treat drinking water, close beaches and can harm vital local economies by preventing people from fishing, swimming and boating.

To monitor NOAA’s daily satellite view of Western Lake Erie, visit: coastalscience.noaa.gov/science-areas/habs/hab-forecasts/lake-erie/

Note that clouds and smoke from Canadian wildfires have obscured the satellite imagery since June 21. The wildfires are not only expected to continue, but should increase during the higher temperatures in July and August, which are provoked by climate change.

The size of a bloom isn’t necessarily an indication of how toxic it is. Toxins in a large bloom may not be as concentrated as in a smaller bloom. Each algal bloom is unique in terms of size, toxicity and its impact on local communities.

“The Lake Erie HAB Forecast continues to be a valuable resource for Lake Erie residents, visitors and the state,” said Director Christopher Winslow of Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Laboratory. “This NOAA forecast and the research being conducted by academic institutions and both state and federal agencies to understand blooms and nutrient runoff will continue to guide efforts to address these summer bloom events.”

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