The water along the western edge of Lake Erie looks more like pea soup than lake water due to an influx of toxic algae that has forced 500,000 people in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan to turn off their taps.
Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio, has a number of experts ready to discuss this issue, how it happened and what can be done to improve it. BGSU also holds the patent for satellite imagery that can do remote sensing on the algal blooms.
Drs. George Bullerjahn and Mike McKay, biology, examine the factors that constrain the growth of cyanobacteria in lakes. As dominant primary producers, they are essential to the functioning of aquatic food webs. Additionally, some cyanobacteria are species that yield toxic or nuisance blooms.
They have studied such nuisance blooms throughout the Great Lakes, especially bloom-forming cyanobacteria in western Lake Erie, Sandusky Bay and Grand Lake St. Marys in west-central Ohio
Their labs use molecular genetic techniques to track the origins and abundance of toxic cyanobacteria throughout the bloom (summer) season
Their recent work has documented the genetic similarity of toxic Microcystis throughout the lower Great Lakes (Lake St. Clair to Lake Ontario)
Their work has also shown that although the Maumee River is an important source of nutrients that promotes the growth of algae in Lake Erie, the river does NOT serve as a direct seed source for the toxic Microcystis
Recent publications by McKay and Bullerjahn on this topic:
Davis, T., S.B. Watson, M.J. Rozmarynowycz, J.J.H. Ciborowski, R.M. McKay, and G. Bullerjahn. 2014. Phylogenies of microcystin-producing cyanobacteria in the lower Laurentian Great Lakes suggest extensive genetic connectivity. PLoS ONE (In press: July 2014)
Steffen, M.M., Z. Zhu, R.M. McKay, S.W. Wilhelm, and G.S. Bullerjahn. 2014. Taxonomic assessment of a toxic cyanobacteria shift in hypereutrophic Grand Lake St. Marys (Ohio, USA). Harmful Algae 33: 12-18.
Saxton, M.A., R.J. Arnold, R.A. Bourbonniere, R.M.L. McKay, and S.W. Wilhelm. 2012. Plasticity of total and intracellular phosphorus quotas in Microcystis aeruginosa cultures and Lake Erie algal assemblages.Frontiers in Aquatic Microbiology, 3:3. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2012.00003.
Kutovaya, O.A., R.M.L. McKay, B.F.N. Beall, S.W. Wilhelm, D.D. Kane, J.D. Chaffin, T.B. Bridgeman, and G.S. Bullerjahn. 2012. Evidence against fluvial seeding of recurrent toxic blooms of Microcystis spp. in Lake Erie’s western basin. Harmful Algae, 15: 71-77.