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Lake Erie’s “Backwards” Circulation Explained

Researchers have discovered that during the summer, Lake Erie circulates in an opposite direction than other lakes in the Northern Hemisphere.

Instead of currents rotating in a counter-clockwise (“cyclonic”) direction driven by the rotation of the earth, central Lake Erie has a clockwise current driven by summer winds. This causes a bowl-shaped, or inverted, thermocline that is deeper offshore than at the coast.

The researchers suggest that this thermocline squashes the cool region near the lake bed, where many species hide from the summer heat. It may also amplify deep-water summer hypoxia, a low oxygen condition which could be harmful to walleye and yellow perch, species valuable to recreational sportfisheries.

The research was supported by the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science and performed by a team of researchers from the University of Michigan’s Cooperative Institute for Limnology and Ecosystems Research and NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab.

This study was published in Geophysical Research Letters and was also chosen for the Research Spotlight in Eos, Transactions of the American Geophysical Union.


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