Biggest algae bloom: Lake Erie Algae Bloom

Published: November 13, 2015

Biggest algae bloom: Lake Erie Algae Bloom, The vast expanse of toxic green algae that engulfed the western half of Lake Erie this past summer was the most severe bloom on record, federal scientists announced on Tuesday.

The algal bloom was found to be slightly larger than the former record-holder from 2011, as well as the 2014 bloom that polluted the drinking water in Toledo and forced the shutdown of the city’s water-treatment system for three days.

This summer’s bloom forced several private beaches to close and damaged tourism and sports fishing, as well. The USEPA estimates that the blooms are responsible for $64 million in losses per year due to the additional cost of drinking water treatment, the loss of recreational water usage, and a decline in waterfront real estate values.

But it could have been far more damaging if not for the influence of several beneficial weather patterns, said Rick Stumpf, an oceanographer and algal bloom specialist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“Fortunately, the bloom moved into the center of the central basin rather than along the shore,” Stumpf wrote in his end-of-the-year report, “resulting in less impact along both coasts.”

Early in July, Stumpf and a team of scientists forecasted that this summer’s bloom would be significant, but more likely the second-largest on record since measurements began in 2002.

But then the unusual weather arrived. Algal blooms are the product of heavy agricultural runoff of fertilizers and manure, primarily into the Maumee River. Heavy rains in June likely caused additional nutrient runoff in July, contributing to the unexpected growth of the bloom, he said.

“The bloom was unusual in that it started early, in mid-July, achieving maximum biomass in mid-August,” Stumpf wrote in his report.

Over a 40-day period from late July to the end of August, the biomass of the bloom exceeded any other bloom that preceded it, with the exception of the first week of October 2011, he said.

From Aug. 5-15, the dense green scum covered an area of 300 square miles of the western basin, Stumpf said.

In September, two major cold fronts brought strong winds that disrupted bloom growth and weakened it, causing it to decline much faster than previous major blooms, he said. Past severe blooms have run well into October.

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