Blooming Lake Erie. Photo Credit: NASA EO
Pure Michigan is a slogan used in the Great Lakes State, to bring in tourists and celebrate the beauty of nature. You probably won't be seeing these images in any Pure Michigan ad campaign. They're of algae, including some of the toxic kind. Stuff so big and nasty that you can see it from space. Be happy that you're not close enough to smell it when it washes up on the shore and starts to rot.Al Gore was in nearby Detroit this week, passing on science about the lakes, and human-induced climate change, and its impact on algae blooms and muck like this. So it's appropriate that these NASA images came out soon after.
Full disclosure: I was at the Gore speech, doing some contract work for the International Joint Commission, and I have two daughters who would like to be able to swim at a clean beach some decade soon.
NASA points out that the "green scum" captured by these Landsat-5 images is of the worst algae bloom that the lake has seen in decades. These bursts of aquatic plant growth were common in the 1950s and '60s, but subsided after limits were put on phosphorus inputs to the lakes, from agricultural runoff and sewage overflows. But then came invasive mussels --- the zebra and the quagga --- which changed the ecosystem throughout the Great Lakes, and helped bring back the algae, even with the lower phosphorus levels.
The NASA notes that a glant bloom spread across the western basin again this year. A little further north, in Lake Huron's Saginaw Bay, giant blooms can be as common as seagulls.
Suffering Saginaw Bay. Photo Credit: NASA EO
The Erie bloom is mostly microcystis aeruginosa, an algae that's toxic to mammals. Also toxic to us: Global warming emissions and climate change deniers.
More on Great Lakes and Algae
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