New lab to help fight the (algae-fueled) battle of Lake Erie

Last year already saw a number of improvements at Stone Laboratory, but renovations and updates continue on South Bass and Gibraltar Islands. The newest addition to Stone Lab's facilities will be an Algae and Water Quality Lab, housed in the Stone Lab Research Building and slated to open later this summer. 

Adding significantly to Stone Lab's research capabilities, the Water Quality Lab will offer analysis services for a wide range of nutrients, cyanobacteria toxins, and suspended solids. Outside researchers will be able to request these tests from Stone Lab staff, and summer students in Stone Lab's Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Program will also be allowed to use the lab for their research projects. 

"The new Water Quality Lab will focus on nutrient and phytoplankton analysis, which has previously been missing from Stone Lab research," said Justin Chaffin, Stone Lab research coordinator and the lab's primary technician. "Research in the new lab will address Lake Erie eutrophication and nutrient loading issues related to cyanobacterial blooms." Construction of the lab was funded by an Ohio Environmental Fund grant from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. 

"The harmful algal bloom problem is not gone, and reducing phosphorus loading is as important as ever, so being able to quickly and accurately measure that loading is essential to improving the health of Lake Erie."—Jeff Reutter, director, Ohio Sea Grant

"Nutrient load" is the total amount of a nutrient, such as nitrogen or phosphorus, entering the water during a given time. Nutrients arrive in ecosystems in a variety of ways, such as from farm field runoff and combined sewer overflows, with phosphorus and nitrogen being of greatest concern. Once these nutrients enter the lake, they contribute to nuisance algal blooms, which are unattractive and may have a negative impact on tourism and water quality, and to harmful algal blooms, or HABs, which can threaten the health of people and animals. 

Lake's dissolved phosphorus levels have been rising

HABs are an excessive growth of cyanobacteria, often called blue-green algae, which can produce toxins that damage the liver, nervous system, and skin. Cyanobacteria bloom when there is an excess of nutrients in warm water: freshwater HABs are generally caused by excess phosphorus and nitrogen. Dissolved phosphorus concentrations in Lake Erie have been rising since 1995, and HABs have been documented annually during summer and fall since 2002, with large blooms occurring in 2008 through 2011. 

"Once the Water Quality Lab is completed, the potential for collaborations will be incredibly wide-ranging," said Jeff Reutter, director of Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Lab. "We'll be able to provide phosphorus concentrations and other data that we've been unable to provide in the past. The fact is that the HABs problem is not gone, and reducing phosphorus loading is as important as ever, so being able to quickly and accurately measure that loading is essential to improving the health of Lake Erie." 

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-- Christina Dierkes, Ohio Sea Grant Communications