NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL) Director, Deborah Lee, participated in the State of Lake Erie Forum, facilitated by Ohio Congressional Representative, Marcy Kaptur. The forum—held on July 10 in a suburb near Cleveland, Ohio—provided an opportunity for stakeholders to learn about the latest environmental and economic developments impacting Lake Erie. Other regional Great Lakes leaders participating in the forum included Jeff Reutter, Ohio Sea Grant Special Advisor; Charles Wooley, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and Dorothy Baunach, Cleveland Water Alliance. In sharing information on NOAA’s products and services with stakeholders, Director Lee focused on a range of water forecasting tools that support public health and safety, commerce, recreation, and emergency response in communities in the Great Lakes region.
Highlighted was the NOAA Lake Erie Operational Forecast System (GLOFS) using observations and forecasts on water level, current speed and direction, and water temperature coupled with NOAA weather and water models to generate forecast guidance 4 times a day for each of the Great Lakes. Lee also discussed GLERL research on developing water models to predict meteotsunamis (large weather-induced waves that can reach 7 feet in height) to protect the safety of beachgoers from unexpected meteotsunami waves that can occur long after a storm has passed and sunny conditions have returned.
Of particular interest to this group of stakeholders, were developments related to harmful algal blooms plaguing the western basin of Lake Erie. Director Lee briefed stakeholders at the forum on current NOAA GLERL research projects addressing HABs, highlighting the Environmental Sample Processor (ESP) – GLERL’s underwater robotic “lab in a can” used to monitor and analyze blooms for algal toxins (e.g., cyanobacteria). She also shared information on NOAA’s operational HAB Bulletin and the experimental HAB Tracker, both valuable tools to keep the public informed on the status of HABs in Lake Erie as well as predicting the movement and concentration of a bloom up to 5 days into the future. Another product reported on was the “Runoff Risk Decision Support Tool,” targeting the source of the HAB problem in Lake Erie. NOAA is working in conjunction with the Great Lakes states to develop and implement this product to reduce nutrient loading contributing to HABs. The tool focuses attention on the timing of nutrient application to help farmers decide the best timeframe to apply fertilizer and avoid times when runoff from rain or snowmelt will wash fertilizer into streams and eventually run into Lake Erie.
Director Lee emphasized the complexity of development and operation of these forecasting tools that are dependent upon NOAA’s environmental information systems—satellite images, buoy data, ship and ESP collected water samples, weather models and observations—running on supercomputers at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Prediction. As is the case with NOAA’s National Weather Service forecasts, water forecasting would not be possible without the long-term commitment of NOAA, partners, and other federal funding.
Extending discussion on the use of forecast modeling, Lee explained how GLERL is using foodweb modeling to predict the potential impacts of the bighead and silver carp on Lake Erie’s commercial and recreational fishery. When running the model scenario of successful invasion of Asian carp in Lake Erie, the GLERL foodweb modeling study showed declines in most fish species, which would result in a significant impact on our Great Lakes fishery valued at $7 billion a year.
Another important NOAA program covered in Lee’s presentation was the Lake Erie restoration projects, executed with funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI). NOAA has awarded nearly $13.5 million in GLRI funding for restoration projects targeting habitat conservation to improve the Lake Erie fishery.
In closing, Lee acknowledged the valuable role that NOAA is playing in collaboration with partners by providing products and services based on sound, cutting-edge science to protect our Great Lakes economic and environmental assets. Through this work, NOAA is committed to maintaining the quality of life that our Great Lakes residents so deeply cherish.
A recording of the forum is available via Facebook Live.
(Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly named the forum panel members.)