The first technique was intended to deliver fertilizer before spring storms, so farmers would not have to pick a time to apply fertilizer between rains, Michalak told OurAmazingPlanet. However, the method hasn't worked as intended, due in part to larger than expected storms. The second practice, avoiding tillage of the soil, helps preserve nutrients in the earth, but may increase the amount of fertilizer lost in large spring rains, she said.
Perhaps more importantly, runoff was made worse by explosive spring storms in 2011, which dropped a lot of rain in a very short period of time and washed the fertilizer away, Michalak said. In the lake, above-average temperatures also nourished the algae. Furthermore, a lack of strong winds prevented the lake from being mixed up, which normally makes algae sink to the bottom and brings low-lying water up to the surface, she said.
Unfortunately for Lake Erie, climate change is expected to lead to larger spring storms, warmer temperatures and fewer strong winds in the future, Michalak said. Dealing with climate change on a global level, then, could have an important local effect, she said.