Great Lakes Algae Blooms in Michigan’s Saginaw Bay Now Monitored from Space

NOAA has begun the Harmful Algal Bloom Monitoring System. Harmful algal blooms occur when certain kinds of algae grow very quickly, forming patches, or “blooms”, in the water. These blooms can capture and carry pollutants and emit powerful toxins that endanger human and animal health. These blooms have increased in occurrence and caused an estimated $1 billion in nationwide losses over the last several decades to coastal economies that rely on recreation, tourism, and seafood harvesting. Blooms can lead to odors that impact public water supplies and result in algae, muck, and fecal encrusted beaches in specific areas of the Great Lakes.

Algal Bloom Monitoring System

NOAA’s National Center for Coastal Ocean Science has developed the Algal Bloom Monitoring System to routinely deliver near real-time reporting for use in locating, monitoring and quantifying algal blooms in coastal and lake regions of the US. This new application offers time-lapse images for bloom detection. The service covers the Great Lakes at Saginaw Bay, Lake Erie, and Green Bay.

Great Lakes Algae
The images were derived from Copernicus Sentinel-3 satellite data from the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) and were processed by NOAA, National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science.

Great Lakes Algae Blooms Affect Water Quality

Saginaw Bay Algae Bloom - Great Lakes Algae
Algae Bloom Seen From Space - Great Lakes Algae
Lake St Clair

The from time to time the pristine waters of Michigan’s Saginaw Bay now look like Lake Erie in the 1960s. This observation was made by oceanographers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Images made by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Aqua satellite on October 9, 2011.

Researchers were comparing algae blooms in Lake Erie and Saginaw Bay. “This is considered the worst bloom in decades,” says Richard Stumpf of NOAA. The green in Saginaw Bay is probably an algal bloom as well.” According to NASA, over the past decade Microcystis, a type of blue-green algae known to produce the toxin microcystin, has returned to the Great Lakes. No single cause has been pinpointed, but runoff from cities, fertilizers, septic tank overflow, zebra mussels, and livestock near water supplies are likely culprits.

The EPA has listed Saginaw Bay as an Area of Concern for over 30 years. Algae blooms, dead zones and invasive mussels are all contributors to the problem. Left unaddressed: the drinking water of 24 million Americans and 10 million Canadians is threatened.

Saginaw River a Significant Source of Nitrate Runoff

Despite $45 million in improvements, Bay City and Saginaw wastewater treatment overflow millions of gallons with partially treated waste water into Saginaw River which flows into the Bay. Laura Ogar, the Bay County Director of Environmental Affairs notes that reports show an average of six overflows a year. Published reports estimated that 90 million gallons of overflow occurred in 2011. Bacteria still present in the water without full treatment.

Pollution for 30 Years on Saginaw Bay – The EPA and the State of Michigan designated the entire region as a potential environmental disaster. The deterioration and pollution were so bad that the label of “Area of Concern” was slapped on the Saginaw Bay in 1987 and has not been lifted for 30 years.

Algae Blooms in Lake Superior – In 2012, a two-day thunderstorm dumped between five and 10 inches of rain on Duluth and along many areas along the coast of Lake Superior. Already saturated with water from previous rainstorms, the area was primed for historic flooding. The immediate after-effect of the event came in the form of submerged soccer fields, broken pavement and mangled streams and creeks that are still being restored today.

Great Lakes Under Stronger EPA Rules – The EPA plans to largely enforce the regulation as planned. They argued that the decision only applies to the 13 states that requested the injunction. In a statement shortly after the ruling, the EPA was defiant and said that the injunction only applies in the 13 states. The injunction does not apply to Michigan. Michigan and Ohio suffer from seasonal algae blooms in Saginaw Bay and Western Lake Erie due to sewage and farm run-off.

When the Flint Water Crisis went Global;What I Learned – 1000’s of individuals from all over the United States converged into Flint Michigan to donate their time and skills to alleviate the disaster of lead contamination with the Flint water system. Here are a couple of things to know that may help you hit the ground running during a major disaster.

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