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Photo: Lake Erie algal bloom is now so large that it can be seen from space

Posted at 11:24 AM, Aug 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-16 18:12:17-04

CLEVELAND — The algal bloom that spread across western Lake Erie, near Toledo, in July is so severe that it can be seen from space. An image from NASA’s Operational Land Imager on July 30 revealed the algae bloom covered about 300 square miles of Lake Erie’s surface. By Aug. 13, the bloom spread across 620 square miles—approximately seven times larger than the size of Cleveland, which is 82.47 square miles.

Green patches on the image show where the bloom was the most dense and where toxicity levels were unsafe for recreational activities. Experts with the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted 2019 could bring particularly severe blooms.

Several factors influenced blooms this year in Lake Erie. Calm winds in July gave algal toxins the freedom to accumulate at the surface. Strong winds in August have since mixed the blooms with deeper waters.

NOAA says heavy rains carry excess nutrients like fertilizers from farms into the lake.

Dr. Rick Stumpf, an oceanographer for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said algal blooms "are caused by something called Cyanobacteria or blue-green algae."

The big problem in Lake Erie, Stumpf said, "is the Maumee River [which] is the biggest river going into any of the Great Lakes, and it’s going into the shallowest part and the warmest part of any of the Great Lakes. So you have a lot of nutrients going into a small, warm area. You’ve basically made an incubator for these blooms in Lake Erie."

Experts have advised people and their pets to stay away from areas where the blooms are forming on the water.