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Wrap-up of 2015 Ecological Forecasts

A summary of key dead zone, harmful algal bloom, and coral bleaching forecasts

Lake Erie harmful algal bloom, Gulf of Mexico dead zone, coral bleaching

Forecasting Summary

Each year, NOAA releases many forecasts for the nation, including regional harmful algal bloom, dead zone, and coral bleaching outlooks. The following is a handy reference that highlights key 2015 forecasts.

Lake Erie: Severe Harmful Algal Bloom

NOAA, partners predict severe harmful algal bloom for Lake Erie. NOAA and its research partners, using an ensemble modeling approach, predict that the 2015 western Lake Erie harmful algal bloom season will be among the most severe in recent years and could become the second most severe behind the record-setting 2011 bloom. The bloom will be expected to measure 8.7 on the severity index with a range from 8.1 to potentially as high as 9.5. This is more severe than the last year’s 6.5, and may equal or exceed 2013, which had the second worse bloom in this century. Full Report.

Gulf of Maine: Red Tide Bloom Similar to Past Three Years

Gulf of Maine red tide bloom expected to be similar to past three years. New England’s summer red tides will be similar in extent to those of the past three years, according to the 2015 Gulf of Maine red tide seasonal forecast. The forecast is the eighth seasonal Gulf of Maine red tide forecast funded by NOAA and issued by scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and North Carolina State University. Red tide, a type of harmful algal bloom (HAB) caused by the alga Alexandrium fundyense, produces a toxin that can lead to paralytic shellfish poisoning, which can result in serious or even fatal illness in humans who eat contaminated shellfish. Full Report.

Western Atlantic, Pacific oceans: Increase in Coral Bleaching

Coral bleaching threat increasing in western Atlantic and Pacific oceans. As unusually warm ocean temperatures cover the north Pacific, equatorial Pacific, and western Atlantic oceans, NOAA scientists expect greater bleaching of corals on Northern Hemisphere reefs through October, potentially leading to the death of corals over a wide area and affecting the long-term supply of fish and shellfish. While corals can recover from mild bleaching, severe or long-term bleaching kills corals. Even if corals recover, they are more susceptible to disease. Once corals die, it usually takes decades for the reef to recover — but recovery is only possible if the reefs are undisturbed. Full Report.

Global ocean: Potential for Major Coral Bleaching in 2015

Warm ocean temperatures may mean major coral bleaching. NOAA scientists warn that warm ocean temperatures in the tropical Pacific and Indian Oceans could set the stage for major coral bleaching events across the globe in 2015. The outlook shows the greatest threat for coral bleaching through May 2015 is in the western South Pacific and Indian oceans. In the Pacific, thermal stress has already reached levels that cause bleaching in the nations of Nauru, Kiribati, and the Solomon Islands, and is expected to spread to Tuvalu, Samoa, and American Samoa in the next few months. In the Indian Ocean, thermal stress may reach levels that cause bleaching around Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles, and parts of Indonesia and western Australia. Full Report.

Gulf of Mexico: Average Dead Zone

NOAA, partners predict an average ‘dead zone’ for Gulf of Mexico. Scientists are expecting that this year’s Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone, also called the “dead zone,” will be approximately 5,483 square miles — or about the size of Connecticut — the same as it has averaged over the last several years. This year marks the first time the results of four models were combined. The four model predictions ranged from 4,344 to 5,985 square miles, and had a collective predictive interval of 3,205 to 7,645 square miles, which take into account variations in weather and oceanographic conditions. Full Report.

Chesapeake Bay: Slightly Below Average Dead Zone

Scientists expect slightly below average Chesapeake Bay ‘dead zone’ this summer. Scientists are expecting that this year’s Chesapeake Bay hypoxic low-oxygen zone, also called the “dead zone,” will be approximately 1.37 cubic miles – about the volume of 2.3 million Olympic-size swimming pools. While still large, this is 10 percent lower than the long-term average as measured since 1950. The anoxic portion of the zone, which contains no oxygen at all, is predicted to be 0.27 cubic miles in early summer, growing to 0.28 cubic miles by late summer. Low river flow and low nutrient loading from the Susquehanna River this spring account for the smaller predicted size. Full Report.

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Ecological Forecasting

An ecological forecast predicts changes in ecosystems and ecosystem components in response to an environmental driver such as climate variability, extreme weather conditions, pollution, or habitat change. It also provides information about how people, economies, and communities may be affected. Learn more.

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