James WX Blog: How Climate change makes toxic algae worse

(Alison Grenert Photo/Viewer submission)

We’ve now seen two sites around Monroe County with a toxic algae bloom. These locally are new and can be a scary thing as they become more frequent. Here’s the story we did on it today. Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) or cyanobacteria can kill dogs if ingested and make humans very sick. They can even be fatal to humans. 

There is algae is all bodies of water, but when you have warm, stale air and a lot of nutrients, some of the “bad” algae can form and that is exactly what’s happening here. Do you see the connection to climate change yet? If not, I’ll lay it out for you here.

All the ingredients for HABs will increase with climate change. First we will start with nutrients. One of the biggest culprits is phosphorus, a commonly used fertilizer by farmers. This can get swept away in runoff and flow into bodies of water that fuel the algae. A wealth of scientific studies prove that a warmer climate will lead to more extreme rains that will lead to more runoff, leading to more fuel for the algae.

Second will be warm waters. A story I did with a lake ecologist regarding HABs was about how the Finger Lakes, Seneca Lake in particular, have been warming quickly. In a way that can only be explained by man-made greenhouse gas emissions. Warmer waters are great ingredients for HABs. These pools of toxic algae have been RAVAGING THE SOUTH where waters are warmer and getting even warmer because of climate change.

When the algae is darker and lays on the surface of the water, it can absorb more heat and enhance blooms. That, in turn, can block more light from getting to other parts of the water ecosystem and make the problem worse in a positive feedback (even though there’s nothing positive about it).

The Finger Lakes for years was considered too clean to get HABs. Unfortunately that was not the case as every lake has seen Algal Blooms. Luckily there is more awareness about the problem and many towns, municipalities, state governments, and even the federal government is taking action to tackle this problem. Another study on the connection can be found here.

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