Melting snow creates ‘dead zones’
Published in The Mining Journal on May 26, 2006
CLEVELAND (AP) — Melting snow carrying phosphorus from northern Ohio’s farms contributes to so-called ‘‘dead zones’’ in Lake Erie where the oxygen is low, researchers say.
Storms flush phosphorus, a common farm nutrient, into drainpipes, creeks, then rivers and finally into Lake Erie. Once there, phosphorus causes extreme plant growth and algae, which suck oxygen from the water when they decompose.
‘‘We always knew weather was important, but were not able to document it,’’ said Gerald Matisoff of Case Western Reserve University, who headed a U.S. team of Lake Erie researchers. ‘‘Now we’re seeing a connection.’’
The findings were expected to be presented Tuesday at a Great Lakes conference in Windsor, Ontario.
‘‘Dead zones’’ create an area devoid of fish, worms and clams on the bottom of the lake, hurting commercial and recreational fishing.
Researchers estimate that two-thirds or more of the phosphorus entering Lake Erie comes from runoff during storms.
While summer storms also wash fertilizer into the lake, big winter snowmelts can be worse.
Four of the 10 snowiest winters to hit the region have occurred since 2000.
‘‘We will need to focus some of our land management issues toward trying to keep the soil on the land and the nutrients on the land,’’ Matisoff said.