Lake Erie forecast for cyanobacterial blooms: not as big as last year | Michigan Radio
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Lake Erie forecast for cyanobacterial blooms: not as big as last year

Jul 12, 2018

The bright green areas show the peak of last year's algal bloom in Lake Erie on Sept. 23, 2017. The highest concentrations of the bloom extend from near Toledo, Ohio in the lower left side of the lake northeastward into Ontario, Canada.
Credit Credit: NOAA derived image from EUMETSAT Copernicus Sentinel-3a satellite dat / NOAA

Researchers with Ohio Sea Grant and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) say cyanobacterial blooms in Lake Erie will likely be smaller than last year.

The forecast relies on satellite imaging and computer models to predict the toxic blooms every summer. 

Christopher Winslow, Director of the Ohio Sea Grant College Program, says this summer's prediction is about 6 on a scale of 10. 

That does not rule out another event similar to what happened in 2014, when a particularly toxic batch surrounded Toledo's water intake station. That's because there's a range of how toxic the blooms can be.

"We're all working on being able to model to toxicity," Winslow says, "so it's not just where the bloom is, or how big it is, but maybe how toxic it is."

This year, researchers say the cyanobacteria blooms showed up a few weeks earlier than usual, due to the extremely hot temperatures early in the summer.

"To see this much cyanobacteria out there, at this time of year, is something I haven't seen in 17 years," says Tom Bridgeman, Director of the Lake Erie Center at the University of Toledo.

How much of the slimy green stuff boaters and fishermen will see depends on the wind, say researchers - and it's not possible to forecast wind.

High winds will stir up the cyanobacteria and mix some of it with the water, under the surface. If there's little wind, the cyanobacteria will float at the surface, making it appear there is more than usual.

Meanwhile, states that border Lake Erie continue their efforts to keep nutrients like manure and synthetic fertilizers from flowing off farms into the lake. The nutrients help cyanobacteria grow.