Algae Blooms from Asia to the Arctic
July 20, 2016
A developing story over recent weeks while I was out of the country was the huge and toxic bloom of algae devastating Florida waterways – part of an evolving, global environmental threat that has roots in agriculture, pollution, waste water, invasive species, and climate change.
Above, in my wide ranging interview with Arctic expert Dr. David Barber in Sweden a few weeks ago, the rise of toxic algae blooms in arctic waters came up.
Below, if you have not seen Dr. Alan Steinman’s interview, highly recommended. Great Lakes Aquatic biologist, and expert on these organisms.
The mess in Florida is only the latest in a string of algal blooms that some experts believe are increasing in frequency and in severity. An immense plume of blue-green algae last September covered a 636-mile stretch of the Ohio River. A month earlier, the city of Toledo, Ohio, warned more than 400,000 residents to avoid drinking tap water after toxic algae spread over an intake in Lake Erie. (Indeed, the Lake Erie bloom is now an annual event.)
The vast algal bloom in the Pacific last year was also fed in part by El Niño, the mass of warm water that forms periodically off the West Coast. But longer-term climate change may also be playing a role, some experts say.
Warming atmospheric temperatures and wetter weather in some parts of the country increase the nutrient-laden runoff into streams, lakes and the ocean. And as ice melts in the Arctic, sea temperatures are rising and more sunlight is filtering into the ocean.
“Some of the features of climate change, such as warmer ocean temperatures and increased light availability through the loss of sea ice in the Arctic, are making conditions more favorable for phytoplankton growth — both toxic and nontoxic algae — in more regions and farther north,” Kathi Lefebvre, a biologist at NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, wrote in an email.
“It is likely that toxic blooms will continue to increase and expand as these features of climate change continue,” she added.
Dr. Davis said he also believed that climate change was working against efforts to prevent algal blooms.
“I certainly believe as a scientist that climate change will influence the size and intensity of these blooms,” he said. “If nothing changes — the increase of rainfall, the increase nutrient loads, warmer water — all of this could lead to larger blooms that last longer and are more toxic.”
Florida’s crisis is only the most recent example, Dr. Cochlan of San Francisco State University said — yet no new funds have been appropriated at the federal or state levels to study the growth and toxicity in these blooms, despite their increasing impact throughout the country. In a letter to President Obama on July 12, Florida legislators asked for federal funding to avert further disaster.
Back in 2014, Florida voters approved Amendment 1, setting aside an estimated $650 million in the program’s first year for the state to buy agricultural land south of Lake Okeechobee as a new pathway for discharge into the Everglades.
The hope was that the ecosystem would provide a natural filter for algae and other contaminants, as it once did. But in the end, the state decided not to buy the land, instead sparring with Environmental Protection Agency over its efforts to enforce the federal Clean Water Act.
Below, Dr. Alan Steinman of the Annis Water Research Institute in Grand Haven, Michigan, gives the rundown on how algae blooms are playing out in US freshwaters.
Recommended if you have not seen – exceptionally informative.