Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Big, ugly blooms of cyanobacteria (sometimes referred to as blue-green algae) are reappearing in the western basin (and sometimes the central basin) of Lake Erie.

The blooms happen when excess nutrients – mostly phosphorus – run off into the lake from farms and sewage treatment plants.

Some of these kinds of cyanobacteria produce toxins that are among the most powerful natural poisons on Earth.

Over the past decade, these cyanobacteria blooms have been common in Lake Erie. And scientists predict climate change could make the problem worse.

NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory / Flickr

There's a "dead zone" in Green Bay.

That may sound like a title of a Stephen King novel, but it is happening in Lake Michigan's Green Bay. A growing dead zone with so little oxygen that fish can't survive. Neither can smaller critters.

Don Scavia is an aquatic ecologist with the University of Michigan and the director of the Graham Sustainability Institute. He joined us today to talk about what’s causing this dead zone and what can be done to fix it.

Listen to the full interview above.

NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory / Flickr

Lake Michigan’s Green Bay is developing dead zones similar to those found in Lake Erie and the Gulf of Mexico. In these zones, the oxygen content in the water is so low, virtually no fish, insects, or worms can survive.

According to a report by the Associated Press, in a public webinar on Thursday scientists said the dead zone may cover as much as 40% of the Bay. Tracy Valenta, a water resources specialist for the Green Bay Metropolitan Sewerage District, said that the zone starts approximately eight miles northeast of the city and may extend more than 30 miles.

Abhishek Shirali / Flickr

For some, algae can be a lakeside nuisance. But for a team of University of Michigan research, it might be the key ingredient for a new fuel.

The National Science Foundation recently granted a $2 million grant to a group of ecologists, engineers, and biologists to investigate green algae’s potential as a biofuel.

The main goal for the researchers: Find what combinations of algae make the most efficient fuel source.

From the University of Michigan’s News Service:

“People have suggested that species diversity might increase the efficiency of algal biofuel systems, but nobody has set up the experiments to test it directly. These will be the first experiments to systematically manipulate the number and types of species in the system to determine how to maximize the yield and stability of algal biofuel,” said ecologist and team leader Bradley Cardinale.


A significant amount of blue-green algae is expected in the western basin of Lake Erie this summer. This year’s algal bloom will be about 1/5 as bad as what happened in 2011.

2011 was one of the worst years on record for the explosions of algae growth.

Christoph Benning, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at MSU
Courtesy: Michigan State University

Michigan State University researchers are celebrating the marriage of a weed and an algae gene -- and its value as a potential biofuel. 

The team found that adding an algae gene to mustard weed caused the plant to store oil in its leaves, and the technique could be used to get more energy out of plants grown for bio-fuel.