The lake's algae cover was about 90 percent smaller during drought-stricken 2012. But the scientists analyzed computer models and concluded that as the planet warms over the next century, weather that fueled the 2011 mega-bloom may become "the new normal," Michalak said. The report noted that storms generating more than an inch of rain could happen twice as often, and that wind speeds are dropping.
Slowing climate change would require action on a global scale. But significant cuts in Lake Erie's phosphorus levels could be achieved with different fertilizing techniques, the scientists said.
"A lot of management practices that were put in place in the '80s improved things for a while, but we're shifting into this warmer world and we need new practices," said Allison Steiner, a University of Michigan atmospheric scientist and member of the study team.
Nancy Rabalais, executive director of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium and an expert on dead zones who didn't participate in the study, said its findings are consistent with climate change scenarios she projects for the upper Mississippi River basin, where flooding caused high algae concentrations two years ago. Nutrient runoff also is causing toxic algae blooms in the Gulf of Mexico's Barataria Estuary, she said.
Another group of scientists convened by the International Joint Commission, a U.S.-Canadian agency that deals with boundary waters, is developing recommendations for solving Lake Erie's toxic algae problem. A draft version is scheduled to be released for public comment in May, said Raj Bejankiwar, the team leader.
"Simply put, we have to reduce phosphorus inputs into the lake," he said.
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