For those who live and play on the shores of Lake Erie, the spring rains that will begin falling here soon are less a blessing than a portent. They could threaten the very future of the lake itself.
Lake Erie is sick. A thick and growing coat of toxic algae appears each summer, so vast that in 2011 it covered a sixth of its waters, contributing to an expanding dead zone on its bottom, reducing fish populations, fouling beaches and crippling a tourism industry that generates more than $10 billion in revenue annually.
The spring rains reliably predict how serious the summer algae bloom will be: the more frequent and heavy the downpours, the worse the outbreak. And this year the National Weather Servicesaysthere is a higher probability than elsewhere of above-normal spring rains along the lake's west end, where the algae first appear. The private forecaster Accuweatherpredictsa wetter than usual March and April throughout the region.
Note: Researchers from the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science contributed imagery and interpretation to an infographic related to this this article. Among other projects dedicated to improving the health of Lake Erie, we provide seasonal and near-real-time algae forecasts to officials in communities around the lake, especially Ohio, to help them plan long-term responses to the blooms and also save money on municipal water treatment.
TheGreat Lakes International Joint Commission relies onNCCOS-funded research to develop strategies tohelp the United States and Canada manage the growing HAB and hypoxia problem in Lake Erie.