Hypoxia Early Warning System

Lake Erie’s “dead zone” impacts the lake’s ecosystem and poses challenges for managers of drinking water treatment facilities.

Episodes of low dissolved oxygen, or hypoxia, are common during the summer in the bottom water of the central basin of Lake Erie, a source of drinking water for millions of people in northwest Ohio. The hypoxic area or “dead zone” in Lake Erie can grow as large as 6,000 square miles, or 63% of the lake surface area. Hypoxic water is usually discolored, acidic, and may contain iron and manganese, requiring costly treatment to avoid undesirable taste and aesthetic problems when it enters drinking water intakes. Because hypoxia events are typically triggered by changes in weather and hydrodynamics (i.e., lake temperature and circulation), they can occur quickly and leave drinking water managers little time to prepare for changes in treatment.

A research team led by scientists from CIGLR and NOAA-GLERL is developing a forecasting system to predict the location and movement of hypoxic water in Lake Erie. This system will give advanced warning when conditions are likely to promote hypoxic water movement into the vicinity of drinking water intakes, providing drinking water managers time to prepare for changes in water quality and implement appropriate treatment processes. The forecast system will be supported by in-lake monitoring sensors to measure oxygen concentrations and give an unprecedented view of the complex lake dynamics that control the development and movement of hypoxic lake bottom water.

To meet the needs of coastal communities, public health officials, and local water quality managers and decision-makers, the research team includes social scientists that are addressing the human dimensions of hypoxia forecasting in the Great Lakes. This team will develop and refine research products related to water quality and human-health, making them more user friendly. They will also educate and help build networks of public health officials that utilize NOAA products and information for decision-making.

About the Project

This 5-year project is in collaboration with the City of Cleveland Division of Water, Purdue University, and U. S. Geological Survey, with guidance from a management advisory group including representatives from Ohio public water systems, Ohio EPA, Great Lakes Observing System (GLOS), and NOAA. The work is supported by a $1.4 million award from the NOAA National Centers for Coastal and Ocean Science (NCCOS) Coastal Hypoxia Research Program (CHRP).

Stay up-to-date on the most recent news and scientific media generated from our Hypoxia Research here:


Rowe, M.D., E.J. Anderson, H.A. Vanderploeg, S.A. Pothoven, A.K. Elgin, J. Wang and F. Yousef. 2017. Influence of invasive quagga mussels, phosphorus loads, and climate on spatial and temporal patterns of productivity in Lake Michigan: A biophysical modeling study. Limnology and Oceanography. (DOI:10.1002/lno.10595). Rowe_etal.pdf

Rucinski, D.K., J.V. DePinto, D. Scavia and D. Beletsky. 2014. Modeling Lake Erie’s hypoxia response to nutrient loads and physical variability. Journal of Great Lakes Research. 40(Supplement 3):151-161. (DOI:10.1016/j.jglr.2014.02.003). Rucinski_etal.pdf

Stow, C.A., Y. Cha, L.T. Johnson, R. Confesor and R.P. Richards. 2015. Long-term and seasonal trend decomposition of Maumee River nutrient inputs to western Lake Erie. Environmental Science & Technology. 49:3392-3400. (DOI:10.1021/es5062648). Stow_etal.pdf

Zhang, H., L. Boegman, D. Scavia and D.A. Culver. 2016. Spatial distributions of external and internal phosphorus loads in Lake Erie and their impacts on phytoplankton. Journal of Great Lakes Research. 42(6):1212-1227. (DOI:10.1016/j.jglr.2016.09.005). Zhang_etal.pdf

Zhou, Y., A.M. Michalak, D. Beletsky, Y.R. Rao and R.P. Richards. 2015. Record-breaking Lake Erie hypoxia during 2012 drought. Environmental Science & Technology. 49(2):800-807. (DOI:10.1021/es503981n). Zhou_etal.pdf

Research Themes


Hypoxia Photo Gallery

Lake Erie Upwelling Event


An upwelling event brought hypoxic water to drinking water intakes along the Ohio shoreline of Lake Erie on September 3, 2016. The animation shows a cross sectional view of Lake Erie from the shoreline near Cleveland to the location of the “Dead Zone” buoy 15 miles north of Cleveland for two weeks surrounding the upwelling. Temperature and dissolved oxygen from an experimental forecast model are shown on the color scale. The north-south component of currents in the lake are shown by the arrows.