A decline in benthic algal production may explain recent hypoxic events in Lake Erie's central basin

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Journal/Book Title/Conference

Journal of Great Lakes Research







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Lake Erie, Hypoxia, Internal loading, Resuspension, Periphyton, Phytoplankton

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Since the late 1990s, the central basin of Lake Erie has reputedly experienced an increase in the frequency and severity of hypoxic events. However, total phosphorus (TP) loading, in-lake TP concentrations, chlorophyll a (Chl a), and sediment oxygen demand (SOD) have all declined in the central basin since the 1970s. Water clarity in this basin has declined from the 1970s to 2000s despite the invasion of dreissenid mussels around 1990. In shallow lakes, declines in benthic primary production (PP) can generate positive feedback loops between the internal loading of nutrients/dissolved organic carbon and hypoxic/anoxic conditions in the water column. Such a hypoxia-inducing mechanism driven by declines in benthic PP has not been explored in Lake Erie. To test if a decline in benthic PP might explain hypoxic events in the central basin of Lake Erie, we calculated the inter-decadal changes in benthic and planktonic algal production in this basin from the 1970s to the 2000s. Primary production models using water column Chl a concentrations and light attenuation indicated that benthic PP represents roughly 10% of the basin's total areal PP. However, our calculations show that benthic PP declined from approximately 540 to 200 g C/m2 y since the 1970s. We propose that a decline in benthic PP may have played a key mechanistic role in the transition from externally-induced hypoxia (i.e. watershed nutrient loading fueling phytoplankton production) in the 1970s and 80s to internally-induced hypoxia (sediment resuspension and internal loading) since the late 1990s.

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