Two years ago, I blogged about the increase of algae in Lake Erie. Now comes a new report from the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (authored in part by some UM scientists) which reports that in October of 2011, the “dead zone” was measured at 5,000 square kilometers (just over 1,930 square miles) – that’s almost 20% of the surface area of the lake! And larger than when Lake Erie was declared “dead” in 1970.
The study attributes the algae bloom with long term trends in agricultural practices that increased phosphorus loading but also focused on meteorological conditions. Apparently a confluence of weather-related conditions (weak circulation during summer 2011, chemicals staying in the lake longer, warm conditions after the bloom began) in the Spring of 2011 led to record-breaking nutrient loads to the lake during the late spring and prevented flushing nutrients out of the system.
While 2012 was reportedly better, this study raises concerns that Lake Erie could be at risk for a repeat of this pattern if climate changes impact the weather in just the right (or wrong) ways.