Lake Erie is going to continue to see huge, harmful algae blooms over the next century, experts said yesterday.
Depending on rainfall and carbon emissions, some data indicate that the lake could experience an 85 percent increase in blooms that stretch 117 square miles or larger, said Jay Martin, a professor of ecological engineering at Ohio State University…
Martin is part of a team of scientists studying the western part of Lake Erie and the Maumee River, from which the most amount of phosphorus floods into the lake.
“If you look at harmful algal-bloom events — that’s really what’s driving this work — the (algae) have been linked pretty well to what’s going on in the Maumee basin,” Martin said during an online seminar on the blooms.
Cyanobacteria, also called blue-green algae, are common in most Ohio lakes. They grow thick by feeding on phosphorus from manure, fertilizers and sewage that rain washes from farm fields into nearby streams.
As many as 19 public lakes, including Erie and central Ohio’s Buckeye Lake, have been tainted in recent years by toxic algae. This week, toxic algae warnings were posted at East Fork Lake in southwestern Ohio.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency found levels of microcystin, a liver toxin produced by blue-green algae, measured at 8.7 parts per billion and 190 parts per billion at two beaches at East Fork State Park, located east of Cincinnati. The state’s safety threshold is 6 parts per billion.
Similar warnings are posted at Grand Lake St. Marys in western Ohio and at Buckeye Lake.
Swimming and wading are not recommended at those beaches for seniors, young children and those with compromised immune systems.
Fertilizers used by farmers in the area enter the Maumee River during storms and make their way to Lake Erie. The phosphorus feeds the algae, which can grow to mammoth proportions. In 2011, a bloom stretched 1,600 square miles from Toledo to Cleveland.
Rainfall has been increasing in amount and intensity in recent years, which has contributed to a jump in blooms, Martin said. “There were very few before 2000, and now there’s almost been a harmful algal bloom every year.”
He said huge blooms — those larger than 585 square miles — should continue to occur at least once every 10 years.
Martin’s team uses rainfall predictions, watershed models, carbon emission levels and 36 global climate models to estimate the frequency and size of algae blooms in the coming century.
“I do think climate change has a role,” he said.
Thomas Bridgeman, an algae expert at the University of Toledo, studies blooms in Lake Erie.
“There’s a lot of variation in blooms over the last 12 years or so, so it’s hard to say whether there’s a general increasing trend,” he said. “But it does look like it.”
Mark Bruce, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said visitors at East Fork can still enjoy themselves.
“You can still boat. People can still play at the beach,” he said. “There are still plenty of things that can be done there.”
Still, these blooms aren’t called harmful for nothing.
“I think the most important thing to consider is the toxins that these blooms can produce,” Bridgeman said. “If they weren’t toxic, they would just be a nuisance, but the fact that they can produce deadly toxins is the biggest concern.”
Kathleen Martini, The Columbus Dispatch
View original article at: Toxic algae, now in East Fork Lake, will be part of Ohio’s future, expert says