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Toledo’s Algae Bloom in Line with Climate Projections

A two-day ban on drinking water has been lifted in Toledo, Ohio. But the toxic algae bloom that led to the ban is still floating around Lake Erie and ones like it could become more common as the climate continues to change in a warming world.

A satellite view of a harmful algae bloom on Lake Erie in October 2011.
Click image to enlarge. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

Nutrients in agricultural runoff is the biggest contributor to algae blooms in Lake Erie. What brings that runoff from farm fields to the lake is rain, and lots of it.

“It’s a combo of more rainfall; that climate change is predicted to cause more severe rain events. And more rainfall means more nutrients and higher nutrients mean more toxicity,” Timothy Davis, an ecologist at the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, said.

An increase in heavy rainfall is already being seen throughout the U.S. The Midwest has seen a 37 percent increase in the amount of rain falling in heavy precipitation events since the late 1950s, the second-highest increase in the U.S. over that period.

Areas along Lake Erie’s shores are where the frequency of heavy precipitation is likely to increase the most over the next century in the contiguous U.S. Heavy rainfall events are projected to be 4-5 times more common there by 2100 under current levels of emissions.

Davis also said that increased water temperatures are a factor that not only contribute to more toxic blooms, but blooms that can last longer.

A map showing the increase in heavy precipitation events across the U.S. from 1958-2012.
Click image to enlarge.

The latest iteration of the National Climate Assessment, released earlier this year, notes that the risk of waterborne illnesses in the Great Lakes region is likely to increase in the coming decades due to these factors.

This year’s wasn’t necessarily bigger than average. However, a combination of northerly winds and currents helped trap the bloom near where the Maumee River brings the majority of nutrients into the lake and right where Toledo’s water intake happens to be.

Davis is part of a group that monitors the lake’s ecology throughout the year. He spoke to Climate Central from a research boat taking weekly samples from the six monitoring stations around the lake that keep track of temperatures, nutrient loads, dissolved oxygen and other factors that can help scientists track the lake’s health.

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Comments

By Mary Brown (Portland, OR)
on August 4th, 2014

Climate change is real.  Take a few minutes and actual look at some climate data.  Much of the relevant, recent data can be found here on Flikr

https://www.flickr.com/photos/125630565@N05/sets/72157645113383959/

Reply to this comment

By radii
on August 4th, 2014

so if we went back to farming the way we did it 100-150 years ago - the original “organic farming” without all the Big Chem products in fertilizer and pesticides, we wouldn’t be having this problem

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By Michael J Berndtson (Berwyn)
on August 5th, 2014

Hazza, a blog post finally explaining the situation well. It’s nutrient loading from industrial farming. While precipitation is the driving force, an ever increasing nutrient loading on feed corn and soybean fields is the major source of the problem impacting rivers and lakes. Farming techniques have changed pretty drastically over the past 25 years. For instance, the close growing crop planting in Illinois is effecting relative humidity in Chicagoland. And area with about seven stalks of corn over a 150 square mile area. To make close growing crop planting work is heavy nutrient loads for corn. On the other hand, soybeans planted more densely increases nitrogen fixing. Not enough to not have to spread more manufactured fertilizers.

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By Longjohn (Davenport, Iowa 52803)
on August 7th, 2014

Actually the problem isn’t chemical fertilizers, it’s using hog and to a lesser extent cattle, waste as fertilizer because it’s the cheapest and easiest way to get rid of the massive amount of waste from a CAFO (AKA Factory Farm). Here in Iowa we have 3 million people but 20 million hogs and 4 million cows which along with poultry create well over ten times as much sewage waste as humans and to make it even more ignorant and ridiculous is we have massive (but entirely necessary) regulation on human waste and treatment plants and virtually no regulations at all on the massive amounts of animal waste.  Nearly all the animal waste from 20 million hogs and 4 million cattle are injected or spread onto the fields here and Extreme Rainfall Events happen just about every year lately, often multiple times

Of course the Propagandists will drag out the “Family Farmer” and claim regulation would be oh so unfair but the Reality of the situation is the 63% of Iowa hogs are owned by 4 corporations, one of which is now wholly owned by the Communist Chinese. It hasn’t been about the “Family Farmer” since the Farm Crisis of the 80’s wiped so many out.  Now it’s all about Corporate Investors getting maximum return for as little effort as possible ....

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