By: Mark Kaminski
Summary. According to the EPA, Lake Superior contains over 2,900 cubic miles of fresh water. Containing 10% of the earth's fresh water, Lake Superior is the largest lake, by surface area, in the world. This lake was once thought to be "immune" to harmful blue-green algal blooms, but the last decade has shown otherwise. A protective characteristic of lake superior is its clean cold waters, since blue-green algae normally thrive in warm, nutrient dense waters. A fundamental shift in the waters of Lake Superior has recently allowed this algal to form. Since 2012, several algal blooms have been reported, with the largest bloom occurring in 2012 and 2018. The blue-green algal forms vast clusters of cyanobacteria that survive on nutrient run off and sunlight. The blooms have been described as a chalk-green color and can produce toxins that have been linked to the deaths of livestock and pets. Climate change can be linked to the rising water temperatures and the increase in nutrient run off. Region wide warming has caused a sufficient decrease on the Lake's ice cover during the winter and warmer surface waters during the summer. In fact, a joint study headed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration reported that Lake Superior is warming at the fastest rate. In addition, surface water temperatures have increased 5 degrees Fahrenheit over the last 30 years. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Climate change has also caused an increase in precipitation intensity by 40%, in the region. With larger, more violent storms there has been an uptick in erosion, ultimately leading to more phosphorous running off into the lake. This phosphorous is thus one of the main food sources for the algal. These blooms can lead to widespread problems in human infrastructure, in addition to, devastating damage to ecosystems. Blocking sunlight, degrading water quality, and depleting dissolved oxygen levels can choke out the local aquatic ecosystems causing ripples down the food chain. This in turn can hurt the major fishing industries and drive away tourist due to the unsettling smell and color. The blooms can also damage anything that may be consuming water from the lake. For example, in 2014 a bloom in Lake Erie forced the city of Toledo to shut off water intake from the lake because the city could not properly treat the water. Overall, the blooms found in Superior have not yet reached disaster levels, but it is feared that the lake is at a tipping point. In December 2020, The International Joint Commission between the United States and Canada stated that blooms in Lake Superior are expected to worsen, and a joint effort is needed to maintain adequate water quality of the Great Lakes.
Why we should care? This topic is important because toxic algal blooms are now found in one of the worlds largest lakes. In a single decade algal blooms went from being impossible to a yearly occurrence in Lake Superior.
I found this article interesting because it is dated back in 2015, just three years after the first algal bloom was reported in Lake Superior. It also reiterated the fact that Lake Superior was warming at the fastest pace out of all the great lakes. The article focuses more on the other Great Lakes, but it does a great job outlining some of the devastation that these algal blooms can and have caused. The article also mentions that these algal blooms could cause “dead zones” which would result in more methane being released into the atmosphere, leading to more climate change. One of the most chilling things mentioned in the article is the very last sentence where Donald Uzarski, of Central Michigan University is quoted saying “…small change in water temperature produces a domino effect…”, this domino effect that just six years later we are experiencing.
Science in Action.
Holly Wellward Kelly is a Senior Research Technician and Aquatic Ecologist at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
Holly Wellward Kelly is an Aquatic Ecologist who has studied everything from costal wetlands to the impact of pharmaceuticals on aquatic ecosystems. Currently she is working on monitoring the phytoplankton communities in the Great Lakes and working with aquatic invasive species. This is relevant to the Algal blooms on Lake Superior because these blooms impact aquatic ecosystems and degrade the water quality. This research is also relevant because these algal blooms are not occuring because of one factor but a verity of reasons. Kelly also has a unique perspective on this topic because Duluth Minnesota is located right on Lake Superior.
It would be very bad if all humanities drinking water either evaporated or became undrinkable from being dead zones
That’s super interesting, I never thought about algae being a destructive organism, let alone harmful at all. I can imagine algae being smelly, but harmful enough to impact water quality and deter water consumption even through treatment is very shocking. I wonder if there is a fish or organism that could counter the spread of algae, by mode of consumption?
That we enter feedback loops so quickly is what alarms me the most. Algae blooms can easily cause mass population declines in any given body of water. To see this effect threatening our own state's most precious resource is concerning. Interstate coordination is needed to protect Earth's largest fresh bodies of water.
I've heard about these blue algae blooms before but I've only heard of them being found in small lakes that are don't have runoff or stagnant water. For a body of water as large as Lake Superior to have this problem is quite serious. The lake is also connected to all of the other Great Lakes so there could be potential for the algae to spread. Hopefully in the near future scientists can find ways to either prevent or safely dispose of the algae.
I have not heard of the algae blooms in Lake Superior so this was a very enlightening blog post. It is crazy how similar stuff to this is happening in lakes all over. I have heard of the algae in Lake Erie and the red algae blooms in Lake Okeechobee down in Florida. The effect climate change has on the increased algae blooms in these freshwater environments must be taken seriously and at the moment not nearly enough is being done to keep the water clean and safe
This is super interesting to read. In the past few summers, the Upper Peninsula has been under several water health advisories warning us to avoid swimming in the water, make sure to not drink it, and that it was fatal for pets to consume. Going to the beach and seeing the water completely blanketed in bright green algae was shocking to say the least.
Sometimes referred to as inland seas, the five Great Lakes are iconic physical and cultural staples in North America with a history dating back to the end of the last glacial period. For those of us who were lucky enough to have grown up around these natural wonders, this fact might be common knowledge. However, even natives may not know that the Great Lakes are in great danger. While people dote on the rolling waves and hilly sand dunes, they remain unaware of the dangers that warming climates have on our lakes. From the article, its noted that algae blooms flourish in warmer waters. Also worth noting is the reappearance of algal blooms after largely being absent throughout 1980’s. Hopefully this post helps bring attention to the increased algal blooms in our lakes so that more research can be done and techniques for control can be implemented before it is too late.
What a sad but intriguing article. I struggle with reading material like this because it makes me so angry that climate change is happening at such a rapid pace and yet if feels like no one is doing anything about it. To know that algal is showing up in a place that it shouldn't be is disheartening, but the fact the it is OUR Lake Superior is even more upsetting. I hope this serves as a wake up call to all who can and are willing to make a difference on this issue. I visited the UP just a few summers ago and took a boat tour on the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. To think that something so beautiful could be destroyed so quickly is scary and I hope we can find a way to stop the algal from multiplying.
The Great Lakes are truly a treasure that is taken for granted. The effects of climate change are always so much more involved than I think many people realize. Such small changes to our earth tempeture has now proved determential to the health of the Great Lakes which hits home for so many of us Michiganders. The rise of tempeture allowing for a breeding ground for this algae is shocking yet does make alot of sense to me, however I find the increase of harsher storms leading to more phosphorus runoff to feed the algae to be really interesting, it once again shows the domino effect climate change has. I have visited Lake Superior many times in my life and I have always noticed the colder water in comparison to the other Great Lakes, however, when I went up this year I felt as if the water was warmer and did not have as many cold spots as I had remembered, I did not think much of it and actually enjoyed the warmth. it is unfortunate though that this warming would have such a negative effect on the health of the lake. you mentioned it affects livestock and pets, but I wonder what affects it has on the fish and if this is what they were referring to when they said "dead zone." additionally, I wonder what the impact of humans fishing and consuming them might be for our current health and the health of future generations. I wonder too if this is a problem found in any of the other lakes.
I found this piece very interesting, but worrying at the same time. The fact that an event like this would have been impossible in Lake Superior only a few years ago continues to display how minute changes in the climate can have extreme effects on our environment. Not only did the increase in temperatures create conditions where algae blooms can occur, but as they become more prevalent, the blooms have the potential to create a lasting negative impact on Lake Superior's water quality.
I had heard of the algae blooms before, but I did not know they would affect our lakes in a harmful way. I never thought algae blooms could be the cause of death for aquatic animals in the water, so this was interesting to read about. One thing that did not surprise me is that somehow these algae blooms are linked to global warming.
I am familiar with the basic process of eutrophication, but i did not know about its presence in Lake Superior. I wonder if the phosphorous run-off is coming in large amounts from specific sites, or from many smaller sites around the lake. Maybe implementing more anti-erosion techniques at these cites would slow down the eutrophication process (though i know that would be costly). I also wonder if there is a way to restore the deoxygenated zones without interfering more in the aquatic ecosystem. Maybe harvesting the algal blooms could reduce the amount of dead zones created, though it seems the only real solution is stopping phosphorous and nitrogen run-off.
I think one of the most interesting parts of the topic of this blog post is the extent at which different environmental issues connect. I thought it was very interesting to hear about how it is not just warming temperatures that are making algal blooms more prevalent in Lake Superior, but also the increased precipitation which causes increased erosion. I am concerned for the impact that these more frequent blooms would have on water quality as well as the existing ecosystem.
I wonder now that the cyanobacteria have begun to inhabit lake superior if they will adapt to the colder waters and begin blooming in even more waters outside their natural range. Because of the fast reproduction rates of these organisms, it is likely that we could observe a change such as this in our lifetimes. It would also be interesting to follow the evolution of these organisms to see how their presence affects natural populations (particularly microbial ones).
I think you did such a great job with your summary of the article. You were able to hit all the main points and explained them in detail. I never knew that in 2014, there was a large enough algae bloom in Lake Erie that would force the city of Toledo to turn off the water intake from the lake. It was always known that the great lakes each have their own nicknames from pollution, but I did not know it was that serious.
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