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NOAA, partners predict significant harmful algal bloom in western Lake Erie this summer

July 2, 2013

Satellite image of 2011 bloom (the most severe in decades).

Satellite image of 2011 bloom (the most severe in decades).

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(Credit: MERIS/NASA; processed by NOAA/NOS/NCCOS )

NOAA and its research partners predict that the 2013 western Lake Erie harmful algal bloom (HAB) season will have a significant bloom of cyanobacteria, a toxic blue-green algae, this summer. The predicted bloom is expected to be larger than last year, but considerably less than the record-setting 2011 bloom. Bloom impacts will vary across the lake’s western basin. This marks the second time NOAA has issued an annual outlook for western Lake Erie.

“This annual forecast and NOAA’s weekly bulletins provide the most advanced ecological information possible to Great Lakes businesses and resource managers so they can save time and money on the things they do that drive recreational activities and the economy,” said Holly Bamford, Ph.D., NOAA’s assistant administrator for the National Ocean Service.

Satellite image of 2012 bloom (1/6 the size of 2011).

Satellite image of 2012 bloom (1/6 the size of 2011).

Download here
(Credit: MERIS/NASA; processed by NOAA/NOS/NCCOS)

Harmful algae blooms were common on western Lake Erie in the 1960s and 1970s. After a lapse of nearly 20 years, they have been steadily increasing over the past decade. As an early warning system, NOAA has issued weekly HABS bulletins for western Lake Erie since 2008 through the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS). The weekly bulletins will continue in 2013.

“This information is critical for tourists, coastal businesses, water treatment plant operators, state and regional natural resource managers and scientists throughout Ohio, the region, and the country,” said Jeff Reutter, Ph.D., director of  Ohio State University’s Sea Grant program and Stone Laboratory. “In Ohio, as part of our Phosphorus Task Force II, we have used information from the NOAA model to help us target reductions in the amount of phosphorus going into the lake that would eliminate, or greatly reduce, the HABs.”

“The timing, size and location of blooms heavily impact our charter businesses,” said Captain Rick Unger, owner of Chief’s Charters and president of the Lake Erie Charter Boat Association. “I use the weekly bulletins to plan my trip routes and fuel costs, but more importantly they help me get our visitors out of their hotel rooms and onto the water.”

The 2013 seasonal forecast, made possible using NOAA models developed by NCCOS scientists, uses an 11-year data set of nutrients flowing into Lake Erie, collected by the Heidelberg University’s National Center for Water Quality Research, and analysis of satellite data from the European Space Agency’s Envisat. In addition to the satellite monitoring of the lake, NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research  Laboratory, Ohio State University’s Sea Grant Program and Stone Laboratory, Heidelberg University, the University of Toledo, and Ohio EPA will be collecting key measurements from the lake as the summer progresses. Those results will provide valuable information to regional managers and assist NCCOS scientists in further refining the accuracy of this forecast’s models.

“Issuing and evaluating this seasonal forecast allows us to develop ways to help resource managers plan for conditions that will occur later in the summer,” said Richard Stumpf, Ph.D., NOAA’s ecological forecasting applied research lead at NCCOS. “Through partnerships with Heidelberg University and Ohio Sea Grant, we bring live tools to regional managers currently facing HAB challenges, but we are also constantly re-calibrating and evolving our forecasting products to meet changing HAB conditions.”

The NOAA forecast models and analyses draw on several sources, including nutrient data from Heidelberg University’s National Center for Water Quality Research and satellite data from
MERIS and NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectro-radiometer. Funding to support the
program was provided through NCCOS, NOAA’s Center of Excellence for Great Lakes and Human Health, and NASA’s Applied Science Health and Air Quality Program.

The Lake Erie forecast is part of a NOAA ecological forecasting initiative that aims to deliver accurate, relevant, timely, and reliable ecological forecasts directly to coastal resource managers and the public as part of its stewardship and scientific mandates for coastal, marine and Great Lakes resources. Additionally, NOAA currently provides, or is developing, HABs and hypoxia forecasts for the Gulf of Maine, Chesapeake Bay, the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Northwest.

The National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science is the coastal science office for NOAA’s National Ocean Service. Visit our website or follow our blog to read more about NCCOS research.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us on Facebook, Twitter and our other social media channels.