Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Events far away threaten ponds on Cape Cod

Last summer, while swimming in Hawksnest Pond, I noticed--shining in the late afternoon sun--a layer of feathery "stuff" floating on the surface. 

The next day, I found out there were big fires in Quebec--the smoke and ash had drifted over Cape Cod, turning the skies grayish.

We often hear about "algae blooms" in ponds and estuaries caused by nutrients leaking from septic systems.  But did you know--dust and smoke from far away adds to the problem?  That's why action to protect our ponds from excess nutrients is so important.

A dust-->algae-->penguin connection

View from space of the massive growth of red, green, and blue single-celled plants, in the currents flowing north.
Growth may be fed by iron in the brown dust cloud, lower left.
In the ocean, iron feeds the algae, like phosphorus does in our ponds.

"Stirring Up a Bloom Off Patagonia

Off the coast of Argentina, two strong ocean currents recently stirred up a colorful brew of floating nutrients and microscopic plant life just in time for the Southern Hemisphere's summer solstice

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this image of a massive phytoplankton bloom off of the Atlantic coast of Patagonia on Dec. 21, 2010.

Scientists used seven separate spectral bands to highlight the differences in the plankton communities across this swath of ocean."

This bloom of algae helps sustain penguins. The famous Punta Tombo colony of Magellanic Penguins is found on the coast just below the odd peninsula (upper center of photo). With half a million of these birds, it's the largest breeding area for Magellanic Penguins in the world.


The North Pacific, west of Alaska, is extremely fertile. That's where the Humpback Whales come to fatten for the summer, and it supports one of the biggest fisheries in the world. This photo (below) of the Alaskan panhandle shows strong winds blowing dust into the ocean, towards the lower left.

Click to enlarge. NASA photo.

On Cape Cod, dust contributes nutrients to our ponds, especially during strong winds of early spring when the ground is bare.

Clouds of smake and ash from distant forest fires can also deliver phosphorus to the ponds.
NASA photo of fires in Quebec, 2002. Click to enlarge.

While windblown dust may be good for penguins and whales, it's bad for our ponds. It helps create toxic, smelly algae blooms--and ruins recreational values.   With so many sources of nutrients, it's important to reduce them where ever possible.

At Hawksnest, that means picking up after your dog, no fires, stopping shore erosion, and packing out all waste.

Quotes and photos thanks to NASA