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Record-setting algal bloom in Lake Erie caused by agricultural and meteorological trends consistent with expected future conditions

April 2013

Anna M. Michalak, Eric J. Anderson, Dmitry Beletsky, Steven Boland, Nathan S. Bosch, Thomas B. Bridgeman, Justin D. Chaffin, Kyunghwa Cho, Rem Confesor, Irem Daloğlu, Joseph V. DePinto, Mary Anne Evans, Gary L. Fahnenstiel, Lingli He, Jeff C. Ho, Liza Jenkins, Thomas H. Johengen, Kevin C. Kuo, Elizabeth LaPorte, Xiaojian Liu, Michael R. McWilliams, Michael R. Moore, Derek J. Posselt, R. Peter Richards, Donald Scavia, Allison L. Steiner, Ed Verhamme, David M. Wright, Melissa A. Zagorskid


In 2011, Lake Erie had the largest harmful algal bloom (HAB) in history, which was likely caused by environmental and farming variables in that particular spring. The article hypothesizes that high participation in agricultural land use caused the flow of dissolved reactive phosphorus (DRP) into Lake Erie. The unusually warm temperatures at this time might have also allowed for the HAB. DRP can be found in runoff from fields that use phosphate fertilizer, and in 2011 most agricultural land was being dedicated to corn which uses much more phosphate fertilizer than soybeans. All of these factors combined contributed to the HAB in Lake Erie.

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Policy Implications

This article highlights how agricultural practices in Michigan can have a negative impact on the freshwater lakes surrounding the state. Lake Erie often experiences HABs due to runoff from fields and increasing temperatures in Michigan. Using large amounts of phosphate fertilizers and not being cautious of runoff is putting the Great Lakes at great risk of HABs, this could be a consistent problem for Lake Erie in the future.

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