We think of Lake Superior as being so large, with so much water, that any minor environmental impacts are simply “swallowed up” by the lake, dwarfed by the lake’s sheer size and volume. A November 14th article in the New York Times however makes it clear that we should definitely not become complacent.
The article delves into the waters of Lake Baikal in Russia. Superior dwarfs Baikal by surface area, covering an area of some 82,100 square kilometers, while Baikal covers less than half of that at 31,722 square kilometers. Measured by water volume however, Baikal is over two times greater in size, coming in at 23,600 cubic kilometers of water, while Superior comes in at 11,600. A rough, handy measure is that Baikal could contain the water in all of the Great Lakes, including Superior.
Specifically, the article talks about the rising incidence of algae in Baikal. Algae has never been part of the picture on Superior, especially when compared with the extreme nutrient input and algae growth problems of Erie. Yet on Superior, everyone from swimmers to scientists have noticed the warmer waters over the last few years. Additionally, National Parks Service staff have actually documented algae growth in the Meyers Beach area, just west of the Apostles Islands in Wisconsin. In this case, documenting algae growth means they actually took samples, examined the algae under the microscope and determined the species of algae.
This is far from saying that any large-scale algae growth is on the way for Superior. However, if there is a sense of “uneasiness” out there about Superior’s water temperatures, algae blooms are something that deserves ongoing observation.
The NYTimes article points out that Lake Baikal is often described as, “the world’s cleanest lake.” The article goes on to say that algae blooms are now occurring on a very major basis with beaches in, “terrible condition…once pristine sands were buried under thick mats of reeking greenish-black goo…This stuff stretched far into the distance, for several kilometers”
Anyone with a close connect to Superior will recognize the almost spiritual presence of Baikal in the minds of many Russians. Few around our own great lake will question the money and resources dedicated to protecting Superior – especially after reading the Baikal article.