What is the Lake Erie algae bloom
By Arthur L. Allen, Ph.D.
ANNE, MD – (Aug. 24, 2014) – The nation’s
attention on the recent algal bloom in Lake Erie that affected the city of Toledo’s
water supply serves as a reminder that similar conditions can impact the
Chesapeake Bay in our own backyard.
The Chesapeake Bay and Lake Erie both experience
harmful algal blooms and are affected by “nutrient inputs” from agricultural
and urban sources alike. Lake Erie, of course, is a freshwater lake while the
Chesapeake Bay is an estuarine body. They respond differently to nutrients that
can and do accelerate algae growth capable of fouling our water.
Nutrients, principally phosphorus and
nitrogen, are a national problem, which require significant action across all
states. Nowhere has there been more attention and research focused on this
problem than in the Chesapeake Bay region. On Delmarva, our principal source of
drinking water is from wells, not the bay, but we should be vigilant nonetheless
about the Chesapeake’s long-term health.
As a public research institution, the
University of Maryland Eastern Shore has partnered with the U.S.
Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) at Penn State
University to develop solutions aimed at reducing the movement of nitrogen and
phosphorus into Chesapeake Bay tributaries.
Over the past 10 years, my colleague Dr.
Eric May and I have worked closely with ARS, which has helped make UMES a
leader in developing better technologies and management practices addressing the
problem of reducing nutrients movement into the bay.
From the research conducted by members
of the UMES Nutrient Management Laboratory and ARS, innovative approaches have
been developed, including use of special “edge-of-field” technologies that
absorb phosphorus, a technology that injects dry poultry manure below the soil
surface and ditch structures that absorb nitrogen. Extensions of this work
conducted by the team that Eric and I supervise also are addressing the
emerging issue of urea, which is used as an alternative to poultry litter as a
Our nation depends on agricultural
products to feed the public as well as maintaining a healthy economy. The
sustainability of agriculture on the Delmarva Peninsula is an important aspect
of the research conducted by UMES, where a balance is sought between protecting
the Chesapeake Bay and insuring farms can continue to survive.
As a consequence, low-cost solutions
have been developed from our research at UMES that have the potential to reduce
phosphorus significantly from entering the bay, while at the same time insuring
the sustainability of agriculture in the region. This important work is in
keeping with our historic mission as a land-grant university.
Harmful algal blooms are a frequent
occurrence in the Chesapeake Bay, usually seen as “mahogany tides” comprised of
dinoflagellates and diatoms that bloom under the right conditions of nutrient
loading, temperature and sunlight. While those organisms do not affect our
drinking water, they do have an impact on the Chesapeake’s delicate ecosystem,
which in turn sustains the Delmarva region.
The UMES research team, working with
federal, state and local partners, is insuring that the Chesapeake Bay and
agriculture will thrive in the future.
Arthur L. Allen is an award-winning research professor in the University of
Maryland Eastern Shore’s Department of Agriculture, Food and Resource Sciences, and recently was named an
American Society of Agronomy Fellow.