Algal bloom predicted to be less severe this year

Lower severity predicted this year

By Roger LaPointe -

A low severity for the annual seasonal harmful algal bloom is predicted for Lake Erie, despite an early algal bloom that started on Sunday in the Maumee Bay.

A severity index of 4.5 has been predicted for the 2020 Western Lake Erie harmful algal bloom by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Lake Erie and by the Ohio State University Ohio Sea Grant. The most likely severity range is between 4 and 5.5. That is lower than the 7.5 index last year and the 10-point level of 2011 and the 10.5 level of 2015.

While in past years the forecasted indexes were not always accurate, the prediction last year was.

“This puts us kind of squarely between 2018 and 2019. That means that there will be some noticeable bloom on Lake Erie,” said Rick Stumpf, Ph.D., NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science’s lead scientist for the seasonal Lake Erie bloom forecast.

The prediction was made in a Thursday online press conference.

“This is much improved over what we saw last year. I will say that much of the lake will be fine most of the time. Blooms are mostly in the western basin, but even there they move around. People do ask about the effect of the lake level, which is high. We do not feel it is a factor in the bloom. I will note that there will be some areas of high concentrations. We will be monitoring those with satellite systems,” Stumpf said.

Advice, as well as several warnings, was also issued.

“Areas with high concentration have strong risk of scums during calm days,” Stumpf said, as he also advised regular checks of the NOAA bulletin for bloom location.

Keep kids, pets and yourselves out of scums. Bloom impact on western basin varies with wind.

“It’s always important to avoid blooms,” said Bowling Green State University Professor Tim Davis, Ph.D. “If you see a scum it is best to avoid that scum.”

A severity index of 5 or greater indicates a greater impact, based on the amount of algae, over a sustained period of time.

The index uses multi-spectral bloom data based on the color of the water surface. That data is collected by the European Union’s Copernicus Sentinel-3a satellite.

The toxicity level of the 2014 harmful algal bloom prompted a shutdown of the Toledo water system for more than 400,000 people during two days at the peak of the bloom, resulting in an estimated $65 million total economic loss. Fulton County areas such as Swancreek Township and the northeastern area of the county use Toledo water.

Lake Erie blooms of blue-green algae, also called cyanobacteria, are capable of producing the liver toxin microcystin. Presence of the toxin prevents people from fishing, swimming, boating and visiting the shoreline, and harms the region’s summer tourism economy.

The low severity is in contrast to an early start to the bloom.

“A bloom of low concentration has started in the last couple of days, up the Maumee Bay pretty much along the Michigan shoreline. Still, it is low concentration and I can’t emphasize that enough,” Stumpf said. “It’s not unusual for a bloom to start in July.”

Testing on that bloom has started but complete results are not yet in.

Blue-green algae has also been found in the downtown Toledo portion of the Maumee River.

“That is unlike in 2017 when the bloom showed up. That 2017 bloom actually blew in from the lake. In this case it appears to be developing locally. Our best guess is, with the very low flow and the very high lake level, the water is pretty much stopping in downtown Toledo,” Stumpf said. “Effectively, the lake is holding back the water. We think what’s happening is that it’s very still and that’s causing the phosphorus to concentrate in that area. Cyanobacteria like warm water, warm temperatures, and it’s been warm. And also a very still flow.”

The water was sampled Wednesday. There are strains of cyanobacteria that are different in the river from the bay, which may be able to prove what is happening.

New technological innovations are being released which should help researchers and the public in responses to the algal blooms.

Davis has helped develop a new portable quantitative measurement testing system at BGSU, with NOAA funding, that will provide real-time data collection onsite in a 30-minute time frame. The $5,600 units, with $22 test kits, are being tested with several area institutions including Toledo and Port Clinton water treatment facilities and the Imagination Station.

Blake Schaeffer, a research physical scientist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Cyanobacteria Assessment Network, has a new Android mobile phone application that provides direct satellite monitoring data of the largest 2,000 lakes in the United States. The free app gives data on lakes as small as 900 square meters, or approximately nine football fields.

That application can be found at It is not predictive, but based on the most recently downloaded satellite data, which is less than a week old.

Lower severity predicted this year

By Roger LaPointe