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Great Lakes-Seaway News' purpose is to provide news, critical information updates, and thoughtful commentary to those who care about the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System specifically, and the maritime industry in general. It is important that Great Lakes-Seaway News also become a forum and online meeting place so that ideas can be presented, issues can be debated and relationships can be made to advance the seaway system’s interests for now and for the future.

Therefore, Great Lakes Seaway News will serve as the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System's newspaper, its online bulletin board, its meeting place for innovation and discussion, and its clubhouse for the development of plans and activities which will serve those who participate in the online marketplace of ideas.

Great Lakes-Seaway News is an independent publication and as such, is not affiliated in any way with the U.S. Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation, the Canadian St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or any other agencies of the governments of the United States of America or Canada. 

Great Lakes-Seaway News is a publication of PRI Strategy Management, Inc.  All rights reserved.


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Western Lake Erie Braces for Summer Algae Blooms

Concerns are starting to mount about the possibility of another toxic algae bloom in western Lake Erie that could jeopardize municipal water supplies and aquatic life.

Algae blooms are part of the natural life cycle of algae, tiny aquatic plants that live in large colonies which can span tens of miles across.  The plants generally start to bloom in June and July as the water warms, and peak in August and September when lake waters are at their warmest.

The satellite picture above was taken on July 28, 2015 by the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8.  The bloom is visible as swirls of green in western Lake Erie near Sandusky, OH, Leamington, ON and Pelee Island.

Earlier in July, NOAA scientists predicted that the 2015 season for harmful algal blooms would be severe in western Lake Erie. 

The bloom will be expected to measure 8.7 on the severity index with a range from 8.1 to potentially as high as 9.5. 

This is more severe than the last year's 6.5, and may equal or exceed 2013, which had the second worse bloom in this century. 

'This is the fourth seasonal harmful algal bloom outlook for Lake Erie that NOAA has issued,' said Holly Bamford of NOAA.

Blooms in this basin thrive when there is an abundance of nutrients (many from agricultural runoff) and sunlight, as well as warm water temperatures. Harmful algal blooms can affect the safety of water for recreation, as well as for consumption (as was the case in Toledo, Ohio, and southeast Michigan during a 2014 bloom). 

On July 30, 2015, drinking water was reported to be safe in these areas.

The dominant organism in the Lake Erie bloom is Microcystis, a type of freshwater blue-green algae that produces a toxin harmful to humans.  If consumed, Microcystis can cause numbness, nausea, dizziness, and vomiting and lead to liver damage, and in rare cases, it can be deadly.

Last year, on August 2, 2014, environmental monitors for Toledo and surrounding towns in northwestern Ohio determined that public water supplies had levels of microcystin toxin that were higher than recommended by the World Health Organization (1.0 parts per billion). 

They warned residents not to drink or cook with tap water; boiling is not effective against the toxin. Though the bloom has continued, treatment facilities have since added extra filtering steps (including activated carbon), and public water sources were declared safe again on August 4.


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US Great Lakes Grain Export Inspections Continue to Rise

According to figures released yesterday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Marketing Service, the number of tons of grains inspected for export at U.S. Great Lakes ports is now 73 percent greater than it was a year ago at this time.

Wheat export inspections are 27 percent greater than they were at the same time last year. Soybean inspections are currently 70 percent more than the figures for the previous navigation season and the number of tons of corn inspected for export at U.S. Great Lakes ports is a whopping 211 percent greater than it was at this time in 2014.

The strong corn export numbers reflect reduced domestic demand for corn for Great Lakes region corn for ethanol production.  In recent years St. Lawrence Seaway corn exports have been limited by high levels of domestic demand for corn used in ethanol production.  A dramatic drop of more than 50 percent in crude oil prices since June of last year and increased domestic oil production has placed downward pressure on ethanol demand and domestic corn demand for ethanol production.

The strong U.S. grain export picture has been a welcome event for the dry-bulk ships operating in the Great Lakes-Seaway maritime industry, as iron ore and coal transportation demand this year have trailed last year's levels.


Port of Cleveland's Cleveland-Europe Express Service Is A Winner 

The Port of Cleveland's Cleveland-Europe Express (CEE) liner service operated by Dutch ship owner, Spliethoff Group, has positioned the port as an innovator in terms of strategic investment of resources to facilitate international trade and economic activity.

Dave Gutheil, VP of Maritime & Logistics at the Port of Cleveland reports that international tonnage has increased by 37 percent year-over-year compared to the end of June last year. Additionally, the total volume of shipping container traffic increased by more than 300 percent compared to last year.

“We are connecting Greater Cleveland to over 30 countries across four continents now,” said Gutheil, adding, "That is critical for our region to compete in the global economy.”

“The Cleveland-Europe Express continues to grow and serve Ohio and Midwest companies as we envisioned,” said Will Friedman, President and CEO of the Port.  Friedman notes that the surge in container traffic is particularly significant because it demonstrates market acceptance of the Cleveland-Europe Express service.

“Last year, the CEE attracted mostly break-bulk cargo, but this year we are making significant inroads to the containerized cargo market. This is further proof that the service is a winner and its here to stay."


Satellite Images Adding to Knowledge of Great Rivers and Lakes

A new NASA mission is creating the first global inventory of the surface waters of planet Earth.

The work is being done in preparation for the 2020 launch of the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite.  SWOT will use information from those satellite images to boost the accuracy of its observations of the length, width and elevation of rivers, lakes and oceans.

“Twenty percent of the rivers we measured in the world were above 60 degrees north [latitude], but we previously had very little high-quality data for them,” said George Allen, a University of North Carolina hydrologist who’s building the international inventory of rivers.

“From local science to climate modeling, scientists are looking at the whole [world], not the pieces, and remote sensing technology plays a big part.”

Advances in remote sensing technology allow scientists like Allen to more accurately map the landscape and its natural features, including those in uninhabited areas.

The first river map compiles 30 years of satellite images of the biggest rivers on the continent, including some of the widest stretches found along the Hudson and St. Lawrence rivers in the Great Lakes region.

To minimize the influence of seasonal changes of river widths, images were used when the water flow was at the annual average. Cloud and ice-free images were then passed through software that detects the center line and edges of a river.

“We stitched static images together to determine and map that average width,” Allen said.

The method, which favors satellite images over 3-D elevation models, provides a 30-year baseline to compare against images yet to be produced by SWOT.

River width is one of the most useful measurements for the SWOT mission, Allen said.

Rivers more than 100 feet wide were measured and mapped.

“To reduce bias, we were only able to include the very largest rivers in our analysis, but we did notice a nice statistical distribution of river widths,” Allen said. “There are a lot more narrow rivers than wide ones.”

Narrower rivers and streams require on-the-ground observation and measurement, said Allen, who’s leading another study to fill in that data gap.

Width is important because it determines the surface area of rivers. And that helps scientists study greenhouse gas emissions, floods and other landscape changes.

The new surface area measurements can been used to quantify greenhouse gas emissions, Allen said. But it “creates a real interesting problem.”

“It’s already being used to predict the location and extent of floods, and it can be used to see how the landscapes change over time, what drives the placement of lakes, rivers and mountains and how fast they’re growing or eroding.”

In the Great Lakes basin, river widths are difficult to predict because the region once had glaciers that actually carved the landscape, Allen said. Unlike elsewhere, the rivers were not self-forming.

Future maps – including the global river map to be released in 2016 – will improve width and location estimates, providing more accurate data to compare against the upcoming SWOT satellite measurements.

“This is a new science, a starting point, and we’re continually getting closer estimates,” he said.