Where are Water Levels Heading on the Great Lakes?

By Kevin Bunch, IJC

lake michigan beach water levels great lakes noaa
A Lake Michigan beach located near Frankfort, Michigan, in September 2015. Credit: NOAA

Forecasting agencies in the United States and Canada expect Great Lakes water levels to remain near or above their long-term average for the next six months.

Water levels are measured on the International Great Lakes Datum, defined as the height above sea level at Rimouski Quebec on the St. Lawrence River estuary. According to the coordinated, binational forecast at the beginning of July, Lake Superior is expected to remain about 6 inches, or 15.4 centimeters, above its long-term average for this time of year through the summer, before falling closer to average levels in the fall. While this forecast is based on normal weather conditions in coming months, lake levels could be higher or lower depending on whether we have a wetter or drier than normal summer and fall. Long-term averages are based on data going back to 1918.

Lake Michigan-Huron, which have a common level due to their connection at the Straits of Mackinac, is expected to be 10-12 inches (30.8 cm) above average in the summer before falling closer to average in the fall. Lake Erie also is expected to be within 1 foot above average in the summer before ending closer to 8 inches, or 20.32 cm, above average in the fall. Lake Ontario’s July level is 1 inch (2.54 cm) below average for this time of year and is expected to remain close to average in the fall.

Jacob Bruxer, Environment and Climate Change Canada senior water resources engineer, said Lake Ontario’s comparatively lower water levels are due to the warm, dry weather conditions around the lake that started around March. Bruxer is also a member of the IJC’s International Lake Superior Board of Control and the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Adaptive Management Committee.

“Those conditions would be bad if we started at average levels, but we’re right around average,” Bruxer said. “We’re not seeing any significant concerns to shipping or recreational boaters.”

The higher water levels on Superior, Michigan-Huron and Erie mean some boat launches could be underwater and beaches are smaller than they would be with lower levels. On the flip side, boaters should have plenty of depth to get their boats into their docks, and anglers may find more coastal areas to fish than they would otherwise. Bruxer added that high levels can lead to greater erosion along bluffs and shorelines due to waves and storms.

Drew Gronewold, a hydrologist at the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Michigan, explained that the Great Lakes typically follow a seasonal cycle where water levels rise in the spring from runoff and peak in early summer. The lakes then fall in the autumn and winter months as evaporation — caused by temperature differences between the warm water and cool air — picks up, reaching their lowest point around January and February.

As of mid-July, Gronewold said there’s no indication that the autumn dip will be stronger than usual in the lakes, or that water levels will increase – something that occurred in the autumn and winters of 2013 and 2014 on Lake Michigan-Huron and Lake Superior. Bruxer said the lakes are expected to remain either near or slightly above seasonal averages for the foreseeable future.

Coordinated six-month forecasts of Great Lakes water levels are published online each month by the US Army Corps of Engineers and Environment and Climate Change Canada (via the Canadian Hydrographic Service). The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also provides these forecasts on its water level online viewer each month. Forecasted water levels are determined using binational data and several different models that account for possible variations in evaporation, precipitation and runoff on the lakes over the coming months.

While forecasts are typically only for a six-month period, the Army Corps of Engineers has recently developed a 12-month probability outlook.

Lauren Fry, civil engineer with the Corps, said the model provides potential outcomes given climatic scenarios, developed based on current conditions and similar existing historical weather data. For example, with the strong El Niño cycling over the past winter, Fry said the agency used data from  similarly strong 1982 and 1997 El Niño events to determine a range of potential lake level impacts from October 2015 until September 2016. The most recent one-year outlook from April suggests higher-than-average water levels will most likely continue until April 2017.

water levels measured feet meters great lakes michigan huron graph
Water levels are measured in feet or meters above sea level, with data compiled by US and Canadian organizations. The green line represents forecasted water levels, while the red line indicates recorded points for Lakes Michigan and Huron as of June 30. Credit: US Army Corps of Engineers

Kevin Bunch is a writer-communications specialist at the IJC’s US Section office in Washington, D.C.

 

Algal Bloom Researchers Adjust to Demand for Data

By John F. Bratton, LimnoTech

In the course of traditional environmental research projects, field work happens in the summer, sample processing and analysis take place in the winter, results are presented at scientific conferences the following year, and eventually are published in journal articles. This paradigm has shifted for harmful algal bloom researchers in Lake Erie. Stakeholders, funding agencies, and the media are coming to expect instant access to continuous observations from in-lake sensors, and access within hours to processed satellite images, laboratory test results, and model outputs.

This use of research data for guiding operational decisions presents logistical, organizational, legal, and ethical challenges. With little time for quality control, discussion with collaborators, or interpretation, preliminary research data and real-time observations have the potential to be read the wrong way by beach managers, charter fishing boat captains, or even operators of drinking water plants.

A network of algal bloom buoys and fixed instruments supported by permanent maintenance staff, vessels, and funding does not exist, unlike networks of instruments used for weather forecasting and navigation (think Doppler radar or Coast Guard channel markers). Because of this, researchers feel pressure to divert their energies away from performing experiments, developing new techniques, and mentoring students, to collect and communicate more routine monitoring data.

A variety of innovative data delivery methods are being used by researchers who study Lake Erie harmful algal blooms (HABs) to provide timely updates to stakeholders on changing conditions, while leaving more time to take care of other important responsibilities. There are related developments in effective HABs data sharing and communication with non-experts from locations beyond the Great Lakes.

Scientists are expected to collaborate closely with experts from outside their institutions and disciplines, and interact regularly and communicate clearly with reporters who want to know about their latest findings. Researchers who study environmental phenomena that potentially impact human health, such toxic algal blooms, are particularly in demand. Audiences that may include resource managers and the general public, however, require information in different forms than academic colleagues and graduate students.

map image satellite data blooms species cyanobacteria
Map image prepared from satellite data of blooms of three different species of cyanobacteria, as shown on NOAA’s Experimental Lake Erie Harmful Algal Bloom Bulletin from July 15, 2016.

What’s at stake? Human, pet, livestock, and ecosystem health; tourism revenue; and the reputations of cities, states, institutions, and the researchers themselves hang in the balance. Putting out “bad” information than is incorrect or incomprehensible can put people and careers at risk.

What’s working well? Given the demands of the 24-hour news cycle, Web-based delivery of data and background material such as fact sheets, video clips, animations, and blog entries makes current information and context available to reporters and consumers whenever they want it — even if their local HABs researcher is unreachable when the latest bloom strikes.

The most current information on Lake Erie HABs is being provided by a loose collaboration of federal, state, and provincial agencies (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Sea Grant), universities (Heidelberg, Michigan, Ohio State, Toledo), drinking water utilities, nonprofits (Great Lakes Observing System), and private companies (Fondriest, LimnoTech). This group shares data and forecasts with each other and the United States and Canadian public in the form of map-based Web portals and automatically emailed forecast sheets and spreadsheets. Similar systems exist in Ontario, New England, the Gulf of Mexico, California, and Australia, among other locations.

screeshot glos habs data portal algae data
Screenshot of the GLOS HABs Data Portal from July 22, 2016, showing continuous blue-green algae data collected from an instrument that is deployed from a buoy near the Toledo, Ohio, water intake on Lake Erie. This is one of 18 stations on the lake that report real-time measurements.

What’s not working? Competition among media outlets and research groups can create pressure to sensationalize HABs stories, or share hypotheses or data interpretations prematurely. Information that is too technical, outdated, incorrect, vague, or conflicting can confuse listeners, readers, and viewers. Other problems with the information delivery system for HABs include a lack of clear authority for any one source (unlike the National Hurricane Center, for example), erratic funding for research and communication, the challenge of reaching diverse audiences, and time constraints on researchers and reporters.

For now, the Internet and email lists are helping to provide information to media outlets and the public, and take some of the pressure off of researchers. This can’t yet replace the demand, however, for on-the-water, at-the-shore, or in-the-lab interview footage of scientists in action. And maybe it’s good to see the people behind the data from time-to-time.

In the final analysis, the questions surrounding toxic algal blooms often come down to risk communication and empowering non-experts to make their own informed decisions. As with a family doctor or a trusted auto mechanic, it helps to hear directly from those who know what they are talking about, as long as they can put the technical terms and concepts into plain language.

John F. Bratton is a senior scientist with LimnoTech in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and previously worked for 17 years as a federal research manager and environmental scientist. He has also taught many courses as a part-time professor in Michigan and Massachusetts.

Outside of Erie: What about Harmful Algal Blooms in Lake Ontario?

By Kevin Bunch, IJC

microcystis algal bloom
A microcystis algal bloom in Hamilton Harbour on Aug. 18, 2006. Credit: NOAA

Lake Erie gets plenty of attention for its sizable harmful algal blooms, or HABs, that appear each year, and rightfully so. The lake experiences the largest blooms in the Great Lakes region, including one that shut down Toledo’s drinking water supply for a couple days in 2014. But Lake Erie is not alone in contending with this issue, as areas across the Great Lakes deal with recurring algal blooms each year. Differences in each area show that this is a complicated issue.

In Lake Ontario, the offshore waters typically have low amounts of phosphorus and algae of any type, according to Dr. Greg Boyer, professor of chemistry at the State University of New York. The story is different closer to the shoreline, particularly in bays like the Bay of Quinte, Hamilton Harbour, Sodus Bay, Little Sodus Bay and the Oswego River Harbor.

“It’s a tale of two lakes,” Boyer said.

While some of these blooms – like those in Hamilton Harbour – appear nearly every year to some extent, other areas like Sodus Bay are much more intermittent. The economic impact can be devastating, too. Boyer said Sodus Bay’s last major HAB event in 2010 caused many people to cancel hotel reservations and leave the bay. Events since then have not been nearly as large.

A consultant’s report released by the IJC in late 2015 found that, despite limited data, HABs cause significant reductions in recreational and tourist dollars in Michigan, Ohio and Ontario, as well as property value losses in Ohio, measuring in the millions of dollars. A 2011 HAB event was estimated at causing roughly US$71 million in damages, and the 2014 event around $65 million.

Dr. Sue Watson, research scientist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, said Hamilton Harbour regularly sees algal blooms, both harmful and otherwise, but that the species of algae creating the blooms changes year-to-year. Bay of Quinte is much more predictable and seasonal as far as its harmful algal blooms, which are usually made up of the same species – commonly microcystis and anabaena.

Watson said researchers are trying to determine where these blooms are coming from, such as deeper in the water or in open-water regions of the lake before ending up at the nearshore areas, how they move through the water column, and what’s making them grow. It’s a serious issue, Watson said, particularly with four drinking water intake lines around the Bay of Quinte, serving about 51,000 people in Bayside, Belleville, Picton and Deseronto. The water is treated on a regular basis to deal with the toxins.

Figuring out what’s causing Lake Ontario algal blooms isn’t simple, though it is important economically and ecologically for the region. Boyer said the traditional understanding is that algal blooms are caused when nutrients including phosphorus and nitrogen from sources such as agriculture or water sewage systems get washed into waterways. The nutrients are then used by the algae to grow into massive blooms.

While that could be the case in areas where a lot of nutrients have been found in the water like Hamilton Harbour or Bay of Quinte, other factors may need to be considered elsewhere. Climate change, invasive species and nutrient recycling from the lake bottom could all be playing a role in the blooms, too. Sodus Bay has seen a consistently low amount of nutrients getting into the lake over the past five years, but still suffers from HAB occurrences, which differ in size and severity from year-to-year. Scientists are researching to what extent HABs can be linked to the resuspension and release of nutrients and phosphorus, in particular from the lake bottom back into the water column (a process known as internal loading). This happens when strong storms churn up water and mix the surface and bottom layers, which is particularly prevalent in the shallower bays like Sodus and Hamilton Harbour.

Efforts in Canada and the United States are underway to try and get nutrient loading under control to reduce HAB outbreaks in these shared waters, with scientists collecting data to support nutrient runoff reduction and water quality monitoring efforts. Boyer’s group from New York is trying to find out if runoff from the nearby village of Sodus Point, the town of Rose and area septic systems could be contributing factors in Sodus Bay.

Watson and other Canadian researchers are working to determine the importance of nutrients from the basin and in the lake bottom sediment in Bay of Quinte and Hamilton Harbour. Nutrients from the lake bottom could delay any recovery in shallow areas like the bay.

algal bloom sodus bay great lakes connection lake ontario
An algal bloom outbreak in Sodus Bay in 2010 severely impacted the local recreational economy. Credit: Jay Ross

Invasive mussels also are playing a role, particularly in the Bay of Quinte, Watson added. The mussels help to clarify the water column by filtering out and eating algae and microscopic animals called zooplankton. Nutrients are concentrated near the shoreline and phosphorus is released in a more bioavailable form (known as dissolved or soluble phosphorus) when the mussels die.

Climate change also may be exacerbating algal growth. Warmer winters are bringing longer periods of ice-free water that allow blooms to begin growing earlier, while heavy rain events are increasing storm runoff. And hotter, drier summers are resulting in long periods of warm, stagnant waters that sustain algal growth. Researchers also are looking into a potential link between beach closures and HABs, Watson said. At Hamilton Harbour, a beach monitoring program assesses if fecal bacteria like E. coli are attaching to algal bloom materials and are being moved inshore by winds and currents, specifically in Hamilton Harbour.

Even though Lake Ontario algal blooms may not be as large or consistent as those on Lake Erie, there are unique challenges to reducing the size of algal blooms and their frequency of occurrence in many bays along Lake Ontario’s coast. Narrowing down the causes and effects can go a long way toward that goal.

Kevin Bunch is a writer-communications specialist at the IJC’s US Section office in Washington, D.C.

Lake Erie Algal Bloom Expected to be Smaller This Summer

By Kevin Bunch, IJC

algal algae blooms western lake erie noaa
Algal blooms on western Lake Erie during August 2015. Credit: NOAA

The 2016 algal bloom on western Lake Erie is forecast to be smaller than the one in 2015 primarily due to reduced nutrient loading from the Maumee River during the March-July period, though it could still end up being large enough to be considered a “bloom of concern,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

According to Jeff Reutter, special advisor at Ohio State University’s Stone Laboratory, the harmful algal blooms, or HABs, on Lake Erie can be forecast accurately from the amount of phosphorus loading in the Maumee River during the spring. With a drier spring than the previous three years and no surge of June storms to drive greater river flow into and along the Maumee – as was the case in 2015 – there is less phosphorus in the western basin overall than last year, and less of other nutrients as a whole.

The NOAA office is estimating a severity level of 5.5 for this year, which is based on the size of the HAB biomass in the lake. Any bloom with a severity level above 5.0 is considered a bloom of concern, with the 2015 bloom measuring 10.5 on the NOAA cyanobacterial index scale, making it the largest bloom on record. A bloom between 2-4 on this severity scale is considered “mild” and 0-2 indicates there’s no bloom of note, said Rick Stumpf of NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science. A more severe bloom is not necessarily more toxic, according to Stumpf. The 2015 bloom was only a quarter as toxic as 2014’s bloom, which measured a 6.5 on the severity scale. The toxin concentrations can also vary in the water column all the way down to the lake bottom.

2016 lake erie algal bloom forecast
The 2016 Lake Erie algal bloom is forecast as a 5.5 on the 10-point severity scale, which measures the size of the bloom. This figure was generated from the results of several different models. Credit: Rick Stumpf

HABs can pose serious health and safety risks. Toledo issued a “do not drink” advisory for its public water supply for more than two days in August 2014 due to cyanotoxins found in the raw and treated water. Cyanotoxins can be dangerously toxic in even recreational contexts. In 2015, Stumpf said, the toxins were measured up to 3,000 parts per billion in the western basin of Lake Erie, and anything above 10 ppb is too toxic for swimming.

According to NOAA, skin contact with the toxins in the blooms can cause rashes, hives and blisters, while swallowing those toxins can lead to diarrhea, vomiting, liver poisoning and neurotoxicity symptoms, ranging from numbness and dizziness in humans to convulsions, excessive salivating and death in dogs. Boiling water or using standard filtration systems won’t remove the toxins from affected water, either. NOAA also advises against going into the water until several weeks after a bloom has disappeared, as it could have simply fallen underneath the surface of the water and the toxins can remain in the water column for days or weeks. NOAA also advises people to be careful about eating fish from the bloom area; while little information is available on how these toxins build up in fish, NOAA suggests avoiding the liver and guts, and cleaning other parts of the fish thoroughly.

Phosphorus has been a known driver behind algal blooms since the 1960s, according to Environment and Climate Change Canada, leading to binational action under the 1972 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement to bring phosphorus levels down.  This significantly reduced HABs as a major problem on Lake Erie, albeit temporarily. In the mid-1990s HABs started appearing again on Lake Erie due to an increase in the fraction of phosphorus called dissolved reactive phosphorus. Invasive quagga and zebra mussels have played a significant role as well, because they move nutrients closer to the shorelines and thus change the lake’s nutrient dynamics. Lastly, climate change is affecting the delivery of nutrients to streams and rivers that discharge into Lake Erie and water temperature, which affects algal growth rates.

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A handful of algal bloom samples are being prepared for testing at NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in 2015. Credit: NOAA

In February of this year, Canada and the United States agreed on a 40 percent phosphorus reduction target, from a 2008 baseline, to reduce algal blooms on Lake Erie. Each country now has to come up with a domestic action plan by February 2018 to meet those targets, which includes an assessment of environmental conditions, identifying priorities in international monitoring and research, and priority measures to reduce phosphorus loadings. The IJC issued the Lake Erie Ecosystem Priority (LEEP) report in 2014 with a series of recommendations to the governments on how to meet a similar 40 percent reduction.

While the algal bloom forecast may not be as bad as last year’s, that doesn’t mean Lake Erie has returned to health. In its 2014 LEEP report, the IJC recommended controls on septic tank discharges, elimination of most uses of phosphorus lawn fertilizer, and an enforceable plan for both agricultural and urban nutrient load reductions.  More work is needed to reduce nutrient loading and algal blooms for good so that everyone can enjoy a clean, healthy lake.

Kevin Bunch is a writer-communications specialist at the IJC’s U.S. Section office in Washington, D.C.

Nitrogen Pollution Concerns in Great Lakes Coastal Wetlands

By Matthew Cooper, Northland College

 When it comes to nutrient loading to the Great Lakes, it’s usually phosphorus that makes headlines. The algal blooms that plague western Lake Erie and the “dead zone” that forms in Green Bay, for example, are linked to excessive phosphorus runoff from agricultural and urban lands. However, our study recently published in the journal Freshwater Science suggests that at least one important Great Lakes habitat may be affected by nitrogen loading just as much as it is by phosphorus.

Coastal wetlands of the Laurentian Great Lakes are critical habitats for many ecologically and economically important plants and animals. And like the rest of the Great Lakes, these habitats are susceptible to nutrient pollution from sources such as agricultural and urban runoff as well as discharges from sewage treatment facilities. Yet, there has been very little research devoted to understanding how coastal wetlands in the Great Lakes actually respond to nitrogen and phosphorus pollution.

To shed some light on this question, we conducted experiments to simulate various nutrient pollution scenarios by adding combinations of nitrogen and phosphorus to small areas (called benthic substrates) within each wetland. We then measured how the algae on these substrates grew in response to the added nutrients. While the simulations were conducted at a small scale within each wetland, they revealed a lot about how these wetland ecosystems might respond to nutrient loading.

algal growth
Experimental nutrient additions. Each round disk is a surface that is treated with a nutrient combination (either nitrogen, phosphorus, a combination of nitrogen and phosphorus, or a control that does not contain nutrients). Algal growth is measured on each disk after three weeks. Credit: Jessica Kosiara

After analyzing results from 54 wetlands of lakes Michigan and Huron we found that nitrogen, not phosphorus, had the greatest effect on wetland algal growth. Forty-three percent of the wetlands tested exhibited a response to the nitrogen treatment alone and an additional 18 percent exhibited a response to nitrogen if phosphorus also was provided. Just two wetlands showed a response to phosphorus alone (36 percent did not respond to any of the nutrient treatments). This differs remarkably from other Great Lakes habitats where phosphorus loading tends to cause the greatest effect.

map great lakes coastal wetlands algae to nutrient additions
Results of experimental nutrient additions in 54 coastal wetlands. Red symbols indicate a response of algae to nitrogen additions, yellow indicates a response to both nitrogen and phosphorus, and blue indicates a response to phosphorus alone. The size of the symbol indicates the magnitude of the response. The largest responses tended to occur in northern wetlands, which were the most pristine wetlands. Credit: Freshwater Science

Perhaps the most interesting result of the study, however, was that the response to our experimental nitrogen additions was greatest in wetlands that were located in the most pristine areas, such as those along the northern shores of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. The landscape in this region is predominantly forested with little agriculture or urban development. These include some of the highest quality and most “natural” wetlands in the region. Therefore, the response to experimental nitrogen additions in these wetlands demonstrates what appears to be their natural susceptibility to nitrogen loading. In contrast, wetlands that were surrounded by agricultural and developed lands, such as those in Saginaw Bay and southern Lake Michigan, showed much less response to the added nitrogen, presumably because these wetlands already receive a lot of nitrogen runoff from the landscape.

nutrient discs coastal wetland algal growth simulated
Nutrient disks after three weeks in a coastal wetland. The three cups on the left are controls (no nutrients added) and the three on the right contained added nitrogen. Algal growth was stimulated by the experimental addition of nitrogen. Credit: Jessica Kosiara

The types of algae growing within the wetlands also appeared to be affected by nitrogen loading. For example, algae that has special adaptations to allow them to utilize nitrogen from the atmosphere (called nitrogen-fixing algae) were most common in the most pristine wetlands and fewer of these specialized algae were found in the wetlands that receive nitrogen runoff from surrounding agricultural and urban lands. This supports our hypothesis that Great Lakes coastal wetlands are naturally sensitive to nitrogen loading and that nutrient pollution from the landscape can alter algal communities in these habitats.

Algae is an important energy source for much of the food web in Great Lakes coastal wetlands, so effects associated with nitrogen loading may have broad implications. For example, stimulation of excessive algal growth due to nitrogen loading may cause a buildup of organic matter as the algae grow, then die and accumulate on the sediment. As this organic matter decomposes, oxygen in the water is consumed, ultimately making the habitat less suitable for resident fish populations.

Currently, there is very little management focus on human-derived nitrogen loading to the Great Lakes. For example, the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between the United States and Canada to restore and protect the waters of the Great Lakes, includes specific phosphorus loading targets for each of the Great Lakes. The Agreement provides an essential framework for implementing programs to maintain or improve water quality. The Agreement does not, however, address nitrogen loading — and nitrogen concentrations continue to increase throughout the Great Lakes. The implications of this nitrogen buildup for the entire ecosystem remain unclear, though negative impacts to coastal wetlands appear to be one risk that warrants further investigation.

Matthew Cooper is from the Mary Griggs Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation at Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin.

Great Lakes Watermark: Loving Summer on Lake Erie

By IJC Staff

In the Great Lakes Watermark partnership, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper and the IJC are gathering and sharing your stories about our precious shared waters. You can watch, hear, and read Watermark stories at a special Watermark Project website. August is a great time for vacationing on the Great Lakes and collecting Watermark memories of your own. Have a Great Lakes story to share? Submit yours online today.

In the videos below, Elizabeth Hinchey Malloy of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes Regional Office shares her memory of a summer trip with friends to Lake Erie that inspired her career. Doug McTavish, former regional director of the IJC’s Great Lakes Regional Office, reflects on Lake Erie’s beauty in the 1950s and the challenges it continues to face.

Webinar Series Offers Insights into State of the Science on Harmful Algal Blooms

By Melanie Adam, Great Lakes Commission

In the Great Lakes, we are fortunate to live by large bodies of freshwater that can be used for many activities and essential needs, including drinking water, recreation and transportation. However, with summer underway, we will soon see blooms of cyanobacteria – commonly called blue-green algae – in our shallower bays.

These Harmful Algal Blooms – or HABs – are caused by nutrient pollution — such as phosphorus in fertilizers that runs off of agricultural fields and lawns — and other factors such as water temperature and circulation. The blooms can produce toxins and when they eventually die and decompose, can cause oxygen levels in the water to decrease. Less oxygen threatens the health of fish and other aquatic organisms. HABs also can sicken people and animals through contact. This form of excessive algae can therefore have many negative impacts on the ecosystem.

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Satellite image of a severe 2011 harmful algal bloom on Lake Erie. Credit: NOAA

HABs management is a perfect example of a complex, regional challenge that cannot be addressed by traditional approaches. With that in mind, the Great Lakes HABs Collaboratory was established in 2015 by the Great Lakes Commission in partnership with U.S. Geological Survey’s Great Lakes Science Center to coordinate HABs prevention and control across the Great Lakes region.

great lakes habs collaboratory webinars

The Great Lakes HABs Collaboratory is a multidisciplinary group with more than 100 members from government, academia, and other sectors from across the Great Lakes. As the title implies, this group applies the concept of a “collective laboratory” to enable science-based information sharing between scientists, as well as between scientists and managers.

The Collaboratory recently launched a “state of the science” webinar series to improve communication and enhance collaboration between researchers working on HABs. The webinars are free and open to the public, and are recorded for listening after the actual presentation date. You can learn more at www.glc.org/projects/water-quality/habs/.

habs state of the science webinar series slide data modelling

This webinar series, organized in partnership with Ohio Sea Grant and LimnoTech, has a speed-talk format with five-minute presentations from five to eight researchers in a one-hour period. Webinars are planned throughout the summer and expected to continue through September. They will touch on many different subjects related to HABs.

The first webinar on June 2 focused on “HABs Data & Modeling,” and included presentations on data and buoys in Lake Erie from Doug Kane of Defiance College and on real-time monitoring in western Lake Erie from Ed Verhamme of Limnotech (to learn more and see the Great Lakes Observatory System HABs Data Portal, click here).

Also presenting was Brian Roe of the Ohio State University on Ohio residents’ willingness to pay to reduce Lake Erie HABs, and Isabella Bertani of Michigan State University spoke about synthesizing different monitoring approaches in the western basin. Additional modeling efforts were shared by Val Klump of the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, who discussed a Green Bay watershed linked model, and John Bratton of Limnotech, who presented models to link HABs and conditions in the lakes. A recording and presentations from the webinar are available here.

A second webinar on June 23 focused on “HABs Blooms Sources & Movements” (click here to see the recording and presentations). Excessive phosphorus in the ecosystem is a well-known cause of HABs blooms; however, many researchers are now looking at the effects of nitrogen on HABs blooms. Kateri Salk of Michigan State University and Silvia Newell of Wright State University both discussed this linkage.

Additionally, Mike McKay of Bowling Green State University presented on the HABs detection, mapping and warning network in Sandusky Bay, and Mark Rowe of University of Michigan presented an update on improvements to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s HAB Tracker. Bart De Stasio of Lawrence University discussed changes in Green Bay’s food web after invasion by zebra mussels.

The July 19 webinar focused on composition, structure, detection and identification of HABs. Recordings of all past webinars are available online at www.glc.org/projects/water-quality/habs/, as well as registration for future webinars in August and September.

Melanie Adam is a biologist and an engineering student serving as an intern for the Great Lakes Commission, where she works primarily on water quality issues, including HABs and water quality trading.

Six Clean and Safe Boating Tips for the Summer

By Kara Lynn Dunn, New York Sea Grant

historic round boat discover clean and safe boating educational vessel
This historic round boat is the Discover Clean and Safe Boating educational vessel for 2016. The campaign developed by New York Sea Grant uses a different style of boat each year. Credit: Brian P. Whattam

Is it a spaceship? An amusement park ride? No, this historic seven-feet round boat is New York Sea Grant’s Discover Clean and Safe Boating vessel for 2016. The Circraft, dating to the early 1970s, helps to teach clean and safe boating tips when it appears at events including the Aug. 9-11 Empire Farm Days in Seneca Falls and at the 2016 Great New York State Fair, Aug. 25-Sept. 5 in Syracuse.

“This boat catches everyone’s attention and provides us with the opportunity to talk with them about wearing a life jacket, being prepared for a sudden emergency on the water, and how they can practice clean, safe and environmentally-friendly boating on New York waters,” says David G. White, a recreation and tourism specialist with New York Sea Grant (NYSG).

There are six boating tips that will come in handy this summer for those venturing out on the water for recreation:

selecting proper life jacket
Selecting the proper life jacket for everyone onboard is a key to keeping captain and passengers safe. Credit: Brian P. Whattam

No. 1:  Wear a properly sized and approved life jacket. In New York waters, boats more than 16 feet long must have a throwable floatation device onboard. Your state or provincial regulations may differ.

No. 2: Have the proper and working equipment onboard before leaving the dock. Standard equipment includes:

  • Current navigational charts
  • A proper device to receive weather alerts
  • Working boat horn, whistles, distress flag and other means of signaling distress
  • Working vessel lights and flashlights with fresh batteries
  • Onboard fire extinguishers and flares with future expiration dates.
coast guard auxiliary
Left to right: US Coast Guard Auxiliary instructors Dale Currier and Gene Little and NYSG Recreation and Tourism Specialist David G. White show a marine SOS flag. Credit: Brian P. Whattam

No. 3: Encourage non-boaters to take Suddenly-In-Command training offered by the US Coast Guard Auxiliary on how to remain calm and act properly in the event of an emergency on the water.

With nearly 457,000 registered powerboats and about 300,000 non-power watercraft in New York State alone, safety education is a must both for boaters and those who enjoy boating but perhaps do not know how to operate a vessel. The New York Sea Grant’s Clean and Safe Boating campaign offers an abbreviated edition of the Suddenly-In-Command training that educates non-boaters on how to assess an emergency situation, stabilize a vessel, summon assistance, and potentially pilot the boat to shore.

Participants see various types of floatation devices and inflatable life vests, and learn basic boating terminology and how to properly signal distress with a marine SOS flag, three types of emergency flares, whistle, marine radio, and cell phone.

No. 4: Use a fuel nozzle bib and bilge sock to keep marine fuel from spilling into the water. The bib fits over the neck of a fueling hose to catch overflow and drops. The bilge sock soaks up marine fluids in a bilge compartment where oil and petroleum products can accumulate.

No. 5: Practice Clean, Drain, Dry inspection of watercraft, trailers and gear to remove aquatic invasive species and debris each time you enter and leave new water.

new york sea grant waterfront steward points out areas on boat trailer
A waterfront steward points out areas on a boat trailer that can trap aquatic debris and unwanted species that should be removed before traveling to new waters. Credit: New York Sea Grant

No. 6: Clean and safe boating tips and laws apply to non-motorized as well as motorized vessels.

new york sea grant us coast guard auxiliary state parks marine services bureau
New York Sea Grant, US Coast Guard Auxiliary, and New York State Parks Marine Services Bureau personnel will be at the Aug. 9-11, 2016, Empire Farm Days event in Seneca Falls with in-water demonstrations of clean and safe boating for non-motorized vessel users. Credit. Brian P. Whattam

In August 2016, non-motorized vessels take center stage for in-water demonstrations by NYSG, US Coast Guard and US Coast Guard Auxiliary personnel, and New York State Parks Marine Services representatives at Empire Farm Days in Seneca Falls. The 300-acre showgrounds for the largest outdoor agricultural show in the northeastern United States includes a pond on the Rodman Lott and Sons working farm where demonstrations will include an emphasis on kayak, canoe, and paddleboard safety. Audience members represent all ages and boating experience and include a perhaps-underserved group, New York’s Mennonite community. The dates for the in-pond demos are Aug. 9, 10 and 11.

Kara Lynn Dunn is a publicist for the New York Sea Grant Great Lakes Program.