Morgana Matus

Climate Change and Agricultural Runoff to Cause Massive Algae Blooms in Lake Erie

by , 07/23/13

great lakes, algae, sediment, nasa, earth observatory , lake erie

For some areas of the world, climate change means hurricanes, tornadoes, or drought. In Ohio, alterations in temperature, wind patterns, and water circulation translate into tons of toxic algae floating in Lake Erie. Back in October of 2011 when these NASA images were taken, nearly one-fifth of the lake was covered with the slimy cyanobacteria, killing marine life by depriving the water of oxygen, and producing a number of other foul byproducts that caused sickness, death, and gender switching in other species. Aided by agricultural practices from farmers spreading phosphorus-based fertilizers, the algae blooms could potentially become a regular occurrence according to a postmortem analysis of the 2011 bloom by the Carnegie Institution for Science.



great lakes, algae, sediment, nasa, earth observatory

The massive algae blooms are reminiscent of instances in the 1960s when phosphorous entered the Great Lakes from agriculture, sewage systems, and industrial pollution. When the US and Canada signed the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement in the 1970s, the algae all but disappeared. Sadly, due to the increased frequency of storms caused by climate change, much of the phosphorous laid down by farmers has begun to wash into the Lakes once more Fed by warmer weather, nutrients, and lack of water circulation, the algae is once again thriving.

The Carnegie study looked at climate models to predict the likelihood of megablooms happening in the future. Due to severe storms, the postulated a 50-percent increase in precipitation events of 20mm or more. Decreasing wind speeds that fail to stir up the water would leave the algae free to soak up the sun and blanket the Lakes. They state that much of the harm from the blooms could be avoided if the agriculture industry adjusted their management practices. In the meantime, a global effort to curb the effects of climate change would benefit not only Ohio, but the health of ecosystems worldwide. Until these changes are made, the algae will either have to be tolerated or possibly harvested for biofuel.

+ Carnegie Institution for Science

Via Grist

Images via NASA.

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