A paper co-authored by Bin Zhu, research scientist at the Finger Lakes Institute, and colleagues at Cornell University and the University of Toledo will be published in the Journal of Great Lakes Research.
Zhu studied the growth of aquatic vegetation in Lake Ontario using innovative and low-cost methods, such as interpretation of pre-existing aerial photographs, which allow mapping of submerged aquatic vegetation over a large geographic area.
The finding is clear: water clarity has increased dramatically in Lake Ontario. It’s a good thing on the surface, but “it may cause a lot of problems,” said Zhu. More light reaching a lake’s bottom means more vegetation, a change that threatens to unbalance the delicate ecosystem of the lake. Zhu and his collaborators found aquatic plant coverage increased 42 percent in Sodus Bay and 200 percent in Chaumont Bay from 1972 to 2002.
Clear water is caused in part by invasive species like zebra and quagga mussels, which filter matter out of the water, as well as the action of other contaminants.
The research paints a picture of a natural resource that needs to be carefully managed to preserve the delicate natural equilibrium. Zhu hopes that the study will enable other researchers and lake managers to evaluate similar habitat assessment questions elsewhere. “Monitoring the health of the lake’s ecosystem is critical to the future of environmental protection in the region,” said Zhu.