The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) issued its fourth seasonal harmful algal bloom (HAB) forecast for western Lake Erie at an all-day press event at The Ohio State University’s Stone Laboratory on July 9, 2015. The forecast predicts a severe bloom for this summer, with the potential to equal or exceed 2013’s bloom.
The 2015 HAB is expected to measure 8.7 on the severity index introduced last year. The index runs from a 10, which is equivalent to the bloom observed in 2011, down to zero. The 2014 bloom was rated at 6.5, while 2013’s bloom was predicted at an 8 and received a final score of 8.7. Any score above 5 is considered to be of particular concern.
“We’re potentially looking at the second-worst bloom after 2011,” said Dr. Richard Stumpf, Oceanographer at NCCOS. However, “most of the lake will be fine most of the time,” Stumpf emphasized, while Ohio Senator Randy Gardner added that “Lake Erie will still be a great place to visit.”
Stumpf recommended that those interested in getting updates about HABs in Lake Erie subscribe to NOAA’s Harmful Algal Blooms in Lake Erie Bulletin, which offers bi-weekly updates of bloom locations and impacts.
Tinka Hyde, Water Division Director at the U.S. EPA, also introduced target phosphorus loads and load reduction goals required to address the problem, as recommended in a newly released report from the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement’s Annex 4, which includes the United States and Canada.
You can view the full forecast as a recording at go.osu.edu/habsinfo. That site also includes HABs information, satellite images of Lake Erie algal blooms and other media and public resources.
In addition to monitoring and forecast efforts, the event included presentations from Dr. Christopher Winslow of Ohio Sea Grant and Dr. Jay Martin of The Ohio State University, who introduced two sets of collaborative research efforts aimed at harmful algal bloom monitoring and reduction. A grant from Ohio’s Department of Higher Education, along with Ohio State’s Field to Faucet Initiative, will support projects at a number of Ohio universities aimed at addressing HABs in the state.
Representatives from NOAA, Heidelberg University, the University of Toledo, the Ohio Lake Erie Commission and LimnoTech were also on hand to answer questions related to the forecast and HABs in general.
Phosphorus, which is contained in animal manure and many commercial fertilizers, tends to be the nutrient that determines the size of the bloom. Phosphorus usually enters the lake in the form of fertilizer and manure runoff, as well as sewage runoff from treatment plants and combined sewer overflows caused by heavy rains.
Harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie most often consist of Microcystis, a cyanobacterium — more commonly called blue-green algae — that can produce a liver toxin called microcystin. The toxin can be removed from drinking water drawn from the lake, but significantly increases the cost of water treatment. In addition, harmful algal blooms can severely reduce tourism income, as recreational water use is made hazardous by the toxin, or unpleasant by layers of blue-green algae floating on the water’s surface.
Being able to forecast the HAB’s extent allows community officials and tourism managers to prepare for its impacts and adjust seasonal budgets in advance instead of reacting to the event as it happens. “This is going to be a heavy bloom year and we need to make sure another Toledo does not happen,” said Winslow, referencing the August 2014 event that shut down the city’s drinking water supply for more than two days.
NOAA’s press release on the HABs forecast is available from the Ohio Sea Grant website.
Located on the 6.5-acre Gibraltar Island in Put-in-Bay harbor, Stone Laboratory is The Ohio State University’s Island Campus on Lake Erie and the education and research facility of the Ohio Sea Grant College Program. The Ohio State University’s Ohio Sea Grant College Program is part of NOAA Sea Grant, a network of 33 Sea Grant programs dedicated to the protection and sustainable use of marine and Great Lakes resources. For information on Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Lab, visit ohioseagrant.osu.edu.