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Published: Monday, 8/18/2014 - Updated: 1 month ago

NOAA: Despite Toledo's struggle with algal bloom, forecast still short of record

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

GIBRALTAR ISLAND, Ohio -- Despite Toledo's struggles with algae this summer, the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration continues to say the 2014 western Lake Erie bloom won't likely be a record-setter by the time it peaks in late September and, in fact, will likely end up producing half the biomass.

Rick Stumpf, a federal oceanographer who leads the Lake Erie satellite research and predictive modeling program at NOAA's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science in Maryland, told about 30 reporters today via conference call that the 2014 forecast NOAA issued on July 10 remains on mark.

That prediction called for a significant bloom, but one less severe and less widespread across the lake's western basin than the 2011 record bloom - about a 6 this summer on a scale of 10.

He said it could possibly become a 7 out of 10, yet still will fall short of the record 10 of 2011 because - while there was enough heat in June to produce strong algae - there was only average rainfall in July.

Mr. Stumpf is one of many speakers making presentations to reporters attending a two-day, annual Ohio science writers' workshop at Ohio State University's Stone Laboratory on Gibraltar Island, near Put-in-Bay.

NOAA, in conjunction with its Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor, is publishing short-term algae forecasts online twice a week now because of Toledo's state of emergency earlier this month. It had been doing them once a week.

The agency also expects more precision in satellite imagining for Toledo and other western Lake Erie shoreline communities once a new European Space Agency satellite is launched in 2015. Depending on the timing, the images may not be available until the 2016 season, Mr. Stumpf said.

NOAA has a cooperative agreement with the European Space Agency and believes the high-resolution images it will get will yield more information than the moderate resolution images now coming from a NASA satellite, he said.

"I can't emphasis enough once we go to higher resolution we should be better able to help places like Toledo," he said.

Toledo's heavy bloom was a result of northerly winds bunching too much algae against the shoreline at one time, Mr. Stumpf said.

"Unfortunately, they were overwhelmed by the microcystin and that led to the advisory," he said.

One thing scientists have learned this summer is that record snow, ice, and freezing temperatures do virtually nothing to suppress algae, which is largely dependent on runoff from March 1 through June 30.

They've also learned July precipitation is a bigger factor than previously thought.

"Clearly, it doesn't make a difference. It depends on what happens in June and July," Mr. Stumpf said.

This year's bloom started in late July, a typical time for it to begin, he said.

Justin Chaffin, Stone Lab's research director, said there are more than 100 forms of algae in Lake Erie, most of them good for the food web.

"Lake Erie produces the most fish of all of the Great Lakes because it has the most algae," Mr. Chaffin said, a reference to how healthy algae forms a basis of the food web.

There are more than 80 varieties of microcystis, the main algae that produces toxic microcystin, Mr. Chaffin said.

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079 or via Twitter @ecowriterohio.



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