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article imageNOAA: 'significant harmful algal bloom' to strike Lake Erie

By Jordan Howell     Jul 6, 2013 in Environment
In a statement released Tuesday, NOAA predicted that portions of western Lake Erie near the coasts of Ohio, Michigan, and Ontario are likely to see a harmful algal bloom develop over the summer.
While NOAA thinks that this year’s harmful algal bloom, or HAB, will be larger than last year’s, it is unlikely to surpass the record-setting 2011 HAB that hampered tourism, resulted in swimming advisories, and led to NOAA’s creation of HAB forecasts for the Great Lakes region.
During the peak of the 2011 HAB, the algae was so thick along some coastal areas that boats had trouble running their engines.
A harmful algal bloom, or HAB, occurs when large quantities of toxic algae known as cyanobacteria appear in a marine environment. In freshwater environments, a HAB is most likely to occur during the summer months when water temperatures are higher and are thought to be triggered by high levels of phosphorous, a by-product of sewage treatment plants and fertilizer runoff.
“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, in the press release.
Previous years’ HABs are visible in satellite imagery from MERIS, the MEdium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer aboard the European Space Agency’s (ESA) ENVISAT satellite.
Satellite image of 2011 bloom (the most severe in decades).
Satellite image of 2011 bloom (the most severe in decades).
Credit: MERIS/NASA; processed by NOAA/NOS/NCCOS
Satellite image of 2012 bloom (1/6 the size of 2011).
Satellite image of 2012 bloom (1/6 the size of 2011).
Credit: MERIS/NASA; processed by NOAA/NOS/NCCOS
While the HAB is not likely to pose a direct threat to the coastal population, city and state officials are worried that it could affect their bottom lines by scaring off tourists, making it more expensive to operate water treatment plants, and threatening the area's US $1.5 billion fishing industry.
“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 the press release.
NOAA hopes that the rollout of its new forecast system will help governments, businesses, and the general public better prepare for HABs so that they are not blindsided like back in 2011.
“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, in the press release. “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 timing, size and location of blooms heavily impact our charter businesses,” said Captain Rick Unger, 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 HAB forecasts are made possible through partnerships with Heidelberg University’s National Center for Water Quality Research, the ESA's Envisat program, Ohio State University’s Sea Grant Program and Stone Laboratory, the University of Toledo, and Ohio EPA.
In addition to HAB forecasts for the Great Lakes Region, NOAA is developing similar forecasts for the Gulf of Maine, the Chesapeake Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Pacific Northwest.
More about harmful algal bloom, hab, Lake erie, Ontario, Ohio
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