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KU research shows climate change will worsen toxic algae blooms in lakes

Algal bloom on University of Kansas' West Campus Pond in 2018.
Ted Harris
Algal bloom on University of Kansas' West Campus Pond in 2018.

Several Kansas lakes are currently under a health advisory due to toxic algae blooms. As temperatures rise, new research from the University of Kansas shows, these toxic water events are expected to worsen and spread to more northern states.

University of Kansas researcher Ted Harris and his colleagues recently published an article in the journal Nature Water explaining how climate change is affecting harmful algal blooms in U.S. lakes.

Several Kansas lakes are currently under ahealth advisory due to the blooms.

The research found that there is a direct link between temperature and how many toxic blooms will occur. Over the next century, they predict that lakes in northern states will become more and more affected.

Algal blooms are particularly dangerous to human and animal health, as they float on the surface and can be blown into coves and close to the shoreline, where people are most likely to interact with the water. The paint-like blue-green algae scum is particularly dangerous — toxic algae has led to dog deaths, liver failure, and may cause cancer in the long term.

Many of these blooms occur in lakes used to provide clean drinking water. These toxins increase the cost of making drinkable water by requiring advanced treatment to remove the toxins.

But scientists still don't have tools to accurately predict when the blooms will occur.

"We don't know about the triggers to control them," said Harris. "So when you see a large bloom, stay out [of the water] because we don't have very good indicators on whether that's toxic or not."

  • Ted Harris, assistant research professor at the University of Kansas, Kansas Biological Survey
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