A first assessment of cyanobacterial blooms in oligotrophic Lake Superior

Robert W. Sterner, Kaitlin L. Reinl, Brenda Moraska Lafrancois, Sandra Brovold, Todd R. Miller

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46 Scopus citations


Lake Superior is often described as the most pristine of the Laurentian Great Lakes, but in the past decade Dolichospermum blooms have been observed. Land use in the adjacent watershed has not changed appreciably during this time, but the lake is warming and climatological variables correspond with presence of blooms. Blooms occurred only in relatively warm years as measured by degree days. Furthermore, the two largest blooms, in 2012 and 2018, occurred during years of especially extreme rainfall, providing coincidental evidence that intense storms provide nutrients or living propagules to the blooms from the watershed. Nearshore lake water in the narrow zone where blooms appear shows some riverine influence compared to water further offshore even in the absence of blooms. Nevertheless, water chemistry associated with the largest bloom in 2018 more closely resembled nonbloom nearshore lake water than river water, suggesting that blooms develop or at least persist outside of distinct river plumes. Concentrations of P and N during peak bloom density greatly exceeded any nonbloom lake or river waters, indicating that a buildup of phytoplankton biomass perhaps by floating and drifting to shore also is a significant factor in bloom occurrence. One potentially toxic substance (Anabaenopeptin A) was observed but at low concentration. At peak phytoplankton concentration, high seston C : P indicated severe P limitation while low C : N pointed against N limitation. If these newly observed blooms are indeed driven by temperature and rainfall as this evidence suggests, blooms may continue.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2984-2998
Number of pages15
JournalLimnology and Oceanography
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Financial support was provided by The University of Minnesota Duluth and the National Park Service via the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. KLR received partial financial support from the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research. The Great Lakes Observing System (GLOS) provided funding to support the LLO1 and LLO2 buoys. Field and lab assistance was provided by Nicole Farley and Madison Perry as well as Theodore Gostomski, David VanderMeulen, and Jay Glase. We thank Gina LaLiberte, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, for her assistance with phytoplankton identification and for providing photomicrographs. We also thank H. Bootsma and J. Delvaux from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee for 2015–2016 APIS temperature data.


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