Spatial distributions of external and internal phosphorus loads in Lake Erie and their impacts on phytoplankton and water quality

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Abstract

Re-eutrophication in Lake Erie has led to new programs to reduce external phosphorus loads, and it is important to understand the interrelated dynamics of external and internal phosphorus loads. In addition to developing phosphorus load response curves for algal biomass in the western basin and hypoxia in the central basin, we used a two-dimensional (vertical-longitudinal) hydrodynamic and ecological model to show that both external and internal phosphorus loads were distributed homogeneously in the water column in Lake Erie's western basin. In the stratified central and eastern basins phosphorus released by organic matter decay and crustacean zooplankton excretion was concentrated in the upper water column, contributing 100–119% of the phytoplankton phosphorus demand, while phosphorus released by dreissenids and from anoxic sediments was distributed primarily in the hypolimnion during the growing season. Simulated reductions in external phosphorus loads decreased individual phytoplankton groups most at times when they were normally most abundant, e.g., Microcystis decreased the most during September. Phosphorus was limiting over the simulation periods, but water temperature and light conditions also played critical roles in phytoplankton succession. While water column phosphorus responded quickly to external phosphorus reduction, pulses of phosphorus (riverine input or sediment resuspension) occurring immediately before the Microcystis bloom period could allow it to bloom despite long-term external phosphorus load reduction. Studies are warranted to assess the contribution of seasonal dynamics in phosphorus loading (including sediment resuspension) to Microcystis bloom development.

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Zhang, H., Boegman, L., Scavia, D., & Culver, D. A. (2016). Spatial distributions of external and internal phosphorus loads in Lake Erie and their impacts on phytoplankton and water quality. Journal of Great Lakes Research, 42(6), 1212–1227. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jglr.2016.09.005

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