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NOAA Forecasts and Responds to Lake Erie Harmful Algal Bloom

NOAA scientists are supporting the response to a bloom of cyanobacteria that contaminated drinking water in Lake Erie on August 2nd, leaving nearly 400,000 in Toledo, OH without drinking water for two days.  NOAA’s weekly Lake Erie Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) Bulletin tracks the size and location of blooms and predicts their movement until the bloom season ends in the fall.  The August 1 bulletin caught the intensification of this bloom and enabled Toledo to prepare for a potential hazard.

Figure 1. Cyanobacterial Index from NASA's MODIS-Aqua data collected 3 August 2014 at 1:10 pm. Grey indicates clouds or missing data. Black represents no cyanobacteria detected. Colored pixels indicate the presence of cyanobacteria. Cooler colors (blue and purple) indicate low concentrations, and warmer colors (red, orange, and yellow) indicate high concentrations. The estimated threshold for cyanobacteria detection is 35,000 cells/mL.

Figure 1. Cyanobacterial Index from NASA’s MODIS-Aqua data collected 3 August 2014 at 1:10 pm. Grey indicates clouds or missing data. Black represents no cyanobacteria detected. Colored pixels indicate the presence of cyanobacteria. Cooler colors (blue and purple) indicate low concentrations, and warmer colors (red, orange, and yellow) indicate high concentrations. The estimated threshold for cyanobacteria detection is 35,000 cells/mL.

In response to requests from Ohio agencies, NOAA increased the frequency of the bulletins from once to twice a week.  Scientists are working to forecast transport and mixing that could carry blooms to the bottom. Satellite data, monitoring, and incorporation of wind forecasts and observations from Cleveland Weather Forecast Office are critical to providing timely and accurate information. NOAA issued a seasonal HAB forecast for Lake Erie on July 10, predicting larger than average blooms that will peak in September. Harmful algal blooms (HABs) were common in western Lake Erie between the 1960s and 1980s. After a lapse of nearly 20 years, blooms increased over the past decade in response to increased phosphorus in the lake. NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science and Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory produce the bulletins, using data from Ohio Sea Grant, Ohio State University, the University of Toledo, Ohio EPA, and regional partners. To learn more about the impacts of HABs and nutrient loading in Lake Erie, check out this webinar. For more information, contact Richard.Stumpf@noaa.gov.

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