It’s Called the ‘Dead Zone’ of the Great Lakes – And It’s Growing…

It caught on fire in the seventies. It could serve as a backdrop in the upside-down for Stranger Things. There is now a new term for it, “the dead zone”.

Lake Erie: the dead zone?

According to one report, this ‘horror movie’ is reality for Ohioans. Why?:

[E]very year in the central basin of Lake Erie, when warmer water stratifies from the colder water below and the oxygen gets used up by decaying organisms.

Fish flee because the water has too little oxygen for them to survive. Organisms that can’t move – including quagga mussels, mayfly larvae and invertebrates – die and decompose. Decomposition uses up more oxygen. And so the dead zone grows, typically from July until October, stretching as large as 10,000 square miles, possibly from Cleveland to Canada.

“It’s a snowball rolling downhill until the water temperatures equalize,” said Tory Gabriel, the extension program leader for Ohio Sea Grant.

The dead zone doesn’t affect just fish, either. It can discolor your drinking water.

At times, Cleveland’s water intake pipes could be part of the dead zone, where the lower pH allows water can be discolored because it absorbs manganese from the bottom of the lake.

Now, we all knew that Cleveland was a scary place to live.

The Cleveland Indians always pretend they will win the World Series…until the final weeks of post-season.

The Cleveland Browns always pretend they’re a football team.

The “mistake on the lake” has another mistake–the lake.

So, Cleveland is a mistake on the mistake.

Bad sports teams, crime rates, freezing cold, and, now, poisonous water.

The ‘dead zone’ is not a new phenomenon. Cleveland, apparently, has always been dead. Even John D. Rockefeller’s money couldn’t save that city’s lake.

Likely for centuries. But it’s gotten worse in the modern era with the influx of phosphorus from fertilizer runoff, which causes the toxic blue-green algae that coats the surface of the lake in the western basin. It can be a different size and shape every year.

And it only affects Lake Erie.

“Lake Erie’s central basin is the perfect depth,” said Brenda Culler, project coordinator for lake health and water quality communications at Cleveland Water.

When the warm air and sun warms the top of the lake, stratifying the water based on temperature, the layer of rapidly declining temperature in the middle is called the thermocline. Oxygen from the top cannot penetrate the thermocline. Therefore the bottom becomes hypoxic, which means low oxygen.

Culler compared the lake to a glass, with cold lemonade at the bottom and hot tea at the top. Until the temperatures equalize, the liquids won’t mix.

The central basin of Lake Erie is an average of 60 feet deep, so there’s not enough water beneath the thermocline for fish and other organisms to survive.

The western basin, around Toledo and the Erie Islands, is too shallow to form a thermocline. And the eastern basin, around Erie, Pennsylvania, and Buffalo, New York, is up to 200 feet deep, so there’s plenty of room for organisms to live below the thermocline.

It is pretty bad when Cleveland officials have to say “early warning is our best defense” for their water. Their drinking water.

Poor, Cleveland. Gotta stay tough.