Future Climate Impacts on Harmful Algal Blooms in an Agriculturally Dominated Ecosystem
Wednesday, 16 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
Cyanobacteria blooms have become a major problem worldwide in aquatic ecosystems that receive excessive runoff of limiting nutrients from terrestrial drainage. Such blooms often are considered harmful because they degrade ecosystem services, threaten public health, and burden local economies. Owing to changing agricultural land-use practices, Lake Erie, the most biologically productive of the North American Great Lakes, has begun to undergo a re-eutrophication in which the frequency and extent of harmful algal blooms (HABs) has increased. Continued climate change has been hypothesized to magnify the HAB problem in Lake Erie in the absence of new agricultural management practices, although this hypothesis has yet to be formally tested empirically. Herein, we tested this hypothesis by predicting how the frequency and extent of potentially harmful cyanobacteria blooms will change in Lake Erie during the 21st century under the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment climate projections in the region. To do so, we used 80 ensembles of climate projections from 20 Global Climate Models (GCMs) and two greenhouse gas emission scenarios (moderate reduction, RCP4.5; business-as-usual, RCP8.5) to drive a spatiotemporally explicit watershed-hydrology model that was linked to several statistical predictive models of annual cyanobacteria blooms in Lake Erie. Owing to anticipated increases in precipitation during spring and warmer temperatures during summer, our ensemble of predictions revealed that, if current land-management practices continue, the frequency of severe HABs in Lake Erie will increase during the 21st century. These findings identify a real need to consider future climate projections when developing nutrient reduction strategies in the short term, with adaptation also needing to be encouraged under both greenhouse gas emissions scenarios in the absence of effective nutrient mitigation strategies.