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Scientists make predictions

Tom Jackson • Jul 3, 2013 at 8:36 AM

Richard Stumpf, an ecological forecaster with NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, offered the forecast during a news conference held Tuesday at OSU’s Stone Laboratory on Gibraltar Island, just offshore from Put-in-Bay. 

Drawing on information that includes NOAA satellite images and Heidelberg University measurements of nutrients going into the lake, Stumpf said that a  harmful algal bloom of cyanobacteria, which produces a toxin in the lake water, will be bigger than in 2012. 

But it will only be about one-fifth of the size in land area of the huge 2011 harmful algal bloom, which covered about 1,500 square miles, Stumpf said.

He said the HAB likely will be limited to the western basin of Lake Erie this year and likely won’t reach the central basin, unless high winds blow some of it east. The 2011 HAB was notable because it even included Cleveland.

Sandusky Bay also will have an algal bloom this year, although the planktothrix algae that produces the blooms in Sandusky Bay is different from the cyanobacteria that produces most of the HAB in the western basin, said Douglas Kane, associate professor of biology at Defiance University.

Tuesday’s news conference brought scientists from Stone Lab and federal and state agencies together for NOAA’s second annual harmful algal bloom forecast, which is issued in cooperation with Heidelberg University.

Last year’s forecast of a mild harmful algal bloom turned out to be correct, Stumpf said.

“That’s an important statement before we issue another forecast,” he said.

Heidelberg closely tracks the amount of dissolved soluble phosphorus, the main agent blamed for harmful algal blooms, that’s deposited into the western basin by the Maumee River. The Maumee is considered the biggest source of dissolved soluble phosphorus in the Western Basin.

Peter Richards, senior research scientist at Heidelberg’s Water Quality Laboratory, showed a slide noting that the amount of phosphorus placed into the western basin during spring 2013 was slightly above average — more than last year, when the harmful algal bloom was negligible, but much less than in 2011.

Heavy rainstorms during the spring season — March through June — is considered a key to predicting harmful algal blooms, because such storms cause runoff of fertilizer from farm fields and also overload municipal water treatment systems.

Anyone who wants to track the harmful algal bloom as it develops in Lake Erie can sign up for the NOAA’s harmful algal bloom bulletin, which is available by email. The signup form is at 1.usa.gov/TphUGm. 

The last bulletin, issued on June 20, said there was no harmful algal bloom yet and it was unlikely one would develop in the next week. 

Harmful algal blooms were a big problem in Lake Erie in the 1960s and 1970s, NOAA scientists say. They went away for about 20 years after phosphorus loads in the lake were reduced, but the problem has returned in recent years. 

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