NASA/USGS

Predictions of a “severe” algae outbreak in 2015 look to be on track.

From the sky, you’d be forgiven for thinking parts of the Great Lakes are growing grass. The algae blooms this year are so thick they look like well-fed lawns, albeit ones that could suck you down into the ooze and maybe poison your dog with algal toxins, to boot.

Last month, scientists predicted a “severe” outbreak of algae in Lake Erie, writing:

The effects of the cyanobacterial blooms include a higher cost for cities and local governments to treat their drinking water, as well as risk to swimmers in high concentration areas, and a nuisance to boaters when blooms form. These effects will vary in locations and severity with winds, and will peak in September.

The bloom will be expected to measure 8.7 on the severity index with a range from 8.1 to potentially as high as 9.5. This is more severe than the last year’s 6.5, and may equal or exceed 2013, which had the second worse bloom in this century. The severity index runs from a high of 10, which corresponds to the 2011 bloom, the worst ever observed, to zero. A severity above 5.0 indicates blooms of particular concern.

To judge from these July 28 satellite images, the algae are already enjoying a healthy adolescence. Lake St. Clair is smeared with gloppy green along its southern coast, as seen above, and the western part of Lake Erie looks like Nickelodeon’s slime factory suffered a massive leak:

NASA/USGS

The algae are thriving thanks to warm temperatures and nutrients from agricultural operations (like phosphorus) running into the water. If ingested by humans, they can damage organs, irritate nerves, and cause flu-like symptoms; in some animals their toxic byproducts can be fatal. Last August, noxious algae forced Toledo and Southern Michigan to turn off the drinking water, leaving 400,000 people to suck on bottled beverages. So far this month, though, the region’s water is reportedly safe to drink.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Transportation

    You Can’t Design Bike-Friendly Cities Without Considering Race and Class

    Bike equity is a powerful tool for reducing inequality. Too often, cycling infrastructure is tailored only to wealthy white cyclists.

  2. Protestors hold a sign that reads "Respect Democracy Our Vote Matters"
    Equity

    The Conservative Backlash Against Progressive Ballot Measures

    In many states, ballot initiatives on expanding Medicaid, limiting gerrymandering, and raising the minimum wage swept to victory in November. Now lawmakers are doing their best to reverse them.

  3. Equity

    The FBI's Forgotten War on Black-Owned Bookstores

    At the height of the Black Power movement, the Bureau focused on the unlikeliest of public enemies: black independent booksellers.

  4. a photo of a woman riding a light rail train in Jerusalem.
    Life

    Can a Light Rail Train Link a Divided City?

    Part cultural tour, part social activism, a project called Dissolving Boundaries uses Jerusalem's public transportation as a stage for examining relations between Israeli and Palestinian residents.

  5. Equity

    Capturing Black Bottom, a Detroit Neighborhood Lost to Urban Renewal

    “Black Bottom Street View,” now exhibiting at the Detroit Public Library, thoughtfully displays old images of the historic African American neighborhood in its final days.