Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan


Record-breaking Lake Erie algae bloom analyzed by Professors Steiner and Posselt

Posted: April 2, 2013

Record-breaking Lake Erie algae bloom analyzed by Professors Steiner and Posselt

Professors Allison Steiner and Derek Posselt are part of an interdisciplinary team that explored factors that may have contributed to the 2011 Lake Erie algae bloom. The team's findings were published online on Monday, April 1, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.

An algae bloom is a rapid buildup of algae in a body of water, and harmful blooms are those that damage other organisms through the production of toxins or by other means.

The 2011 bloom was the largest harmful algae bloom in Lake Erie's recorded history and was likely caused by a combination of changing farming practices and weather conditions that are expected to become more common in the future due to climate change, according to a U-M News Service article by Jim Erickson.

"This event was caused by a complex combination of factors, and I think this paper really puts all the pieces together in a very clear and systematic way," Steiner says. "We tried to think about this problem in a much more cross-disciplinary way than I think other people have thought about it before."

The cross-disciplinary approach included eighteen U-M co-authors from various departments and schools. The team looked at land use, lake circulation, agricultural practices, temperature, precipitation, wind, and surface runoff.

The researchers found that a series of intense spring rainstorms and runoff events resulted in record-breaking levels of phosphorus, a nutrient in crop fertilizers that also fuels rampant algae growth, washing into western Lake Erie. The team found that the bloom is likely a sign of things to come.

To read the U-M News Service article, click here.


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