Thursday, July 27, 2017

Climate Change Means More Fuel for Toxic Algae Blooms

By Andrea Thompson
July 27, 2017

For two days in early August 2014, the 400,000 residents in and around Toledo, Ohio, were told not to drink, wash dishes with or bathe in the city’s water supply. A noxious, pea green algae bloom had formed over the city’s intake pipe in Lake Erie and levels of a toxin that could cause diarrhea and vomiting had reached unsafe levels.

The bloom, like the others that form in the lake each summer, was fed by the excessive amounts of fertilizer nutrients washed into local waterways from surrounding farmland by spring and summer rains. Efforts are underway around the Great Lakes ­— as well as other places plagued by blooms, like the Gulf of Mexico and Chesapeake Bay — to reduce nutrient amounts to control the blooms, which can wreak havoc on the local ecology and economy.

But new research shows that climate change is going to make those efforts more and more difficult. As warming temperatures lead to increases in precipitation, more nitrogen, one of those nutrients feeding the blooms, will be washed into the nation’s waterways, the work, detailed in the July 28 issue of the journal Science, finds.

The biggest increases in such nitrogen loading will likely come in the Midwest and Northeast, areas already seeing the biggest uptick in heavy downpours.


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