Senior Editor
That's eerie, isn't it? Image: Landsat 8/NASA/NOAA

That’s eerie, isn’t it? Image: Landsat 8/NASA/NOAA


The Inertia

Remember a few months ago when researchers found that the annual algae bloom in the Gulf of Mexico was set to increase in size by nearly 60 percent? Well, you should see what’s going on in Lake Erie. It’s green. Like, really green.

It’s widely accepted that the cause of these giant blooms is the agricultural industry–which, by the way, is just a function of the way our fat, bloated society gets its food. Unless you’re a homesteader who lives entirely off the land, you’re part of the problem. I’m part of the problem. We’re all part of the problem because it’s way easier to buy food than to hunt/grow it. When nitrate and phosphorous-based agricultural materials runoff, they eventually make their way to a larger body of water. As we explained back in June, “there, phytoplankton, those tiny little creatures that are vastly important to the general health of the ocean, gorge on them. Their population explodes. You’d think, though, that larger populations of phytoplankton would be good–more food from the bottom of the food chain should lead to a sort of trickle-up effect–but you’d be wrong. Instead, the numbers are so high that huge chunks of the phytoplankton population die off, sinking to the bottom where the even tinier creatures that break them down use up way more dissolved oxygen than they should. That leads to oxygen-starved swathes of ocean where larger creatures can’t live, which, of course, is a dead zone.”

It’s not just oceans, obviously. On September 26th, the Operational Land Imager on the Landsat 8 satellite took a few shots from space. The images show an algal bloom of worrying proportions. It’s worrying because the bloom has a tiny little freshwater cyanobacteria in it that’s pretty bad for basically anything that likes water.

A flyover of Lake Erie. Photo: Aerial Associates Photography, Inc. by Zachary Haslic via NOAA

A flyover of Lake Erie. Photo: Aerial Associates Photography, Inc. by Zachary Haslic via NOAA

These blooms aren’t anything new–it’s an annual phenomenon that, if kept in check, is easily managed. But when it’s not kept in check, things can rapidly get pretty messy. “This year’s bloom was first reported in July in Maumee Bay,” wrote Tom Hale for IFLScience, “but has since spread eastwards and northwards within the lake’s western basin, along with the shore of Michigan, Ohio, and Ontario.”

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