NASA Earth Observatory
Satellite photo of a massive bloom of toxic algae in Lake Erie in 2011.

Lake Erie Will Become Toxic-Algae Breeding Ground: Scientists


With spring imminent—the equinox occurs on Wednesday March 20—many are watching for the profusion of blossoms that erupt over much of Turtle Island this time of year.

But along the shores of Lake Erie, many are looking with trepidation to a bloom of another kind: Experts say that this year’s spring rains will most likely cause an outbreak of toxic algae.

For years, Lake Erie has been plagued with a thick coat of blue-green algae each summer that can be harmful to humans, and occasionally even deadly to animals. Among the areas affected by these toxic algae blooms are the Seneca Tribal Grounds, namely Cattaraugus Reservation in New York. 

Spring rain levels will influence the severity of the issue, The New York Times reported recently. Frequent, heavy rainfall, which is on the menu, increases the amount of the summer algae bloom, and the National Weather Service predicts very wet weather for the area in the coming months. With a large amount of rain, these blue-green algae blooms grow abundantly, as evidenced in 2011, when they covered one-sixth of the lake’s surface (approximately 120 miles) after the area’s wettest spring on record, according to The New York Times.

The culprit is the algae microcystis aeruginosa, which is toxic to mammals because of a liver toxin it manufactures, NASA said in a statement describing an especially bad 2011 outbreak. Moreover, dead algae sinks to the lake bottom, where it is consumed by bacteria that also consumes oxygen. This deadens the lake, compounding the problem, NASA said. Canada's Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba is also in algae's grip, The New York Times noted, as are some bays in Lake Huron. Erie, as the smallest and shallowest of the Great Lakes, has slightly higher temperatures than they do, according to The Windsor Star

At the end of February, scientists from the International Joint Commission, formed in 1909 between the U.S. and Canada to care for the countries' common waterways, gathered in Windsor, Ontario, to examine the sources of phosphorous, which the blooms thrive on. The issue began in the 1960s, when pollutants and sewage dumping was unregulated, and the two countries spent billions of dollars on cleanup, the Associated Press reported. Though the cleanup was successful, the algae have returned with a vengeance, thanks to phosphorous runoff from new farming techniques, as well as climate change.

"We've seen this lake go from the poster child for pollution problems to the best example in the world of ecosystem recovery," said Jeffrey M. Reutter, director of the Sea Grant College Program at Ohio State University, to The New York Times. "Now it's headed back again."

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sue lettieri's picture
sue lettieri
Submitted by sue lettieri on
please forward this article to Erin Brockovich, with your permission, i will do it.

william Jones,'s picture
william Jones, ...
Submitted by william Jones, ... on
I live in N.B. Canada, we have industrial salmon farms in the Maritime’s, at certain times of the year low oxygen is a serious problem on many farms, this issue is getting worse due to higher water temperatures. our solution was to invent an aerator that is able to greatly increase the dissolved oxygen content of the water in and around the salmon farms very quickly. The industry is not interested in something that takes forever to fix the problem, (how long can a fish live without enough oxygen in the water..) The AquaCannon by Seeley’s Cove Research Center Inc. is able it able to dramatically raise and maintain the dissolved oxygen levels over a large area very quickly-in minutes. we propose the use of several such machines in the worst section of Lake Erie. we know from experience that with normal 02 levels, toxic algae does not happen. For example; 1 AquaCannon supports 75-100,000, 10 lb salmon even when they are full of food and burning 02 at a very high rate. In the area where the AquaCannon’s are deployed, there will be no fish die off and the water quality will quickly improve. We are not saying the AquaCannon is a save all, but until the pollution is controlled, we must do something to stop the lake from dieing off, the water quality is rapidly becoming toxic, and unusable. These machines can be powered by several forms of energy, diesel, methane, propane, electricity. they are portable and can be placed anywhere they are needed. Anyone interested?

frank lipsit's picture
frank lipsit
Submitted by frank lipsit on
I keep hereing the trouble is the farmers and mabye part of this is true but what I fully beleive is the new ares being built up with storm sewers , many more every year is the big culprit. Before this land was allowed to filter out all the allergie before it hit the lakes but to day the water has no root but go directly from the roads to the lakes picking up all kinds of contaminites on the way