Lake Erie, the world’s tenth largest freshwater lake by area, has had recurring blooms of toxic cyanobacteria for the past two decades. These blooms pose potential health risks for recreation, and impact the treatment of drinking water. Understanding the timing and distribution of the blooms may aid in planning by local communities and resources managers. Satellite data provides a means of examining spatial patterns of the blooms. Data sets from MERIS (2002–2012) and MODIS (2012–2014) were analyzed to evaluate bloom patterns and frequencies. The blooms were identified using previously published algorithms to detect cyanobacteria (~25,000 cells mL−1
), as well as a variation of these algorithms to account for the saturation of the MODIS ocean color bands. Images were binned into 10-day composites to reduce cloud and mixing artifacts. The 13 years of composites were used to determine frequency of presence of both detectable cyanobacteria and high risk (>100,000 cells mL−1
) blooms. The bloom season according to the satellite observations falls within June 1 and October 31. Maps show the pattern of development and areas most commonly impacted during all years (with minor and severe blooms). Frequencies during years with just severe blooms (minor bloom years were not included in the analysis) were examined in the same fashion. With the annual forecasts of bloom severity, these frequency maps can provide public water suppliers and health departments with guidance on the timing of potential risk.
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