Forecast for algae outbreaks on Lake Erie now being ranked on 1-10 scale


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TOLEDO, Ohio — Researchers have come up with a new way to classify their forecast for the yearly algae outbreaks on Lake Erie.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will use a scale of 1 to 10 to predict and rank the algae that is a growing problem off the northern Ohio shore.

This summer's algae outbreak is expected to be a 5 or 6 on the scale.

Algae blooms during the summer have become more frequent and troublesome in Lake Erie, the shallowest of the five Great Lakes. They have been blamed for contributing to oxygen-depleted dead zones in the lake where fish can't survive and forcing cities to spend more money to treat drinking water.

Rick Stumpf, a researcher with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said a ranking system similar to the Richter scale used for earthquakes may help people better understand the algae forecasts.

The forecast for this summer released on Thursday said Lake Erie will have a significant bloom of toxic blue-green algae in its western basin this summer, but it isn't expected to be as large last year's or the record-setting 2011 outbreak.

The algae bloom last year was worse than expected because of heavy July rain, Stumpf said.

"If we have an exceptionally wet July, we may revise the forecast," Stumpf told The Blade (http://bit.ly/1oNf1RU). "But it won't be lower than it is now."

The lake also warm by June, contributing to the outbreak, researched said. The lake is believed to be about as warm as it was last summer, said Tom Bridgeman, an algae researcher at the University of Toledo's Lake Erie Center.

Phosphorus from farm fertilizer runoff and sewage treatment plants feeds the algae, which leave behind toxins that can kill animals and foul drinking water.

Farmers have been asked to voluntarily take steps to reduce phosphorus runoff. The International Joint Commission, an advisory agency made up of Canadian and U.S. officials, released a report last summer recommending that governments in both countries require "best management practices" to reduce phosphorus applied to fields.

Because of climate change, it "may take several years" of nutrient reductions to turn Lake Erie around, Bridgeman said. "The lake now seems to be in an injured state," he said. "Lake Erie is slow to respond biologically."


Information from: The Blade, http://www.toledoblade.com/

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