Nutrient Pollution - Long Island Algae Blooms
Nutrient pollution is one of America's most widespread, costly and challenging environmental problems, and is caused by excess nitrogen and phosphorus in the air and water.
Nitrogen and phosphorus are nutrients that are natural parts of aquatic ecosystems. Nitrogen is also the most abundant element in the air we breathe. Nitrogen and phosphorus support the growth of algae and aquatic plants, which provide food and habitat for fish, shellfish and smaller organisms that live in water.
But when too much nitrogen and phosphorus enter the environment - usually from a wide range of human activities - the air and water can become polluted. Nutrient pollution has impacted many streams, rivers, lakes, bays and coastal waters for the past several decades, resulting in serious environmental and human health issues, and impacting the economy.
Too much nitrogen and phosphorus in the water causes algae to grow faster than ecosystems can handle. Significant increases in algae harm water quality, food resources and habitats, and decrease the oxygen that fish and other aquatic life need to survive. Large growths of algae are called algal blooms and they can severely reduce or eliminate oxygen in the water, leading to illnesses in fish and the death of large numbers of fish. Some algal blooms are harmful to humans because they produce elevated toxins and bacterial growth that can make people sick if they come into contact with polluted water, consume tainted fish or shellfish, or drink contaminated water.
Nutrient pollution in ground water - which millions of people in the United States use as their drinking water source - can be harmful, even at low levels. Infants are vulnerable to a nitrogen-based compound called nitrates in drinking water. Excess nitrogen in the atmosphere can produce pollutants such as ammonia and ozone, which can impair our ability to breathe, limit visibility and alter plant growth. When excess nitrogen comes back to earth from the atmosphere, it can harm the health of forests, soils and waterways.
Excessive nitrogen and phosphorus that washes into water bodies and is released into the air are often the direct result of human activities. The primary sources of nutrient pollution are:
Thermal Pollution - High Temp Means Low Oxygen
Water as Cooling Agent in Power, Manufacturing and Industrial plants:Production and Manufacturing plants are biggest source of thermal pollution. These plants draw water from nearby source to keep machines cool and then release back to the source with higher temperature. When heated water returns to the river or ocean, the water temperature rises sharply. When oxygen levels are altered in the water, this can also degrade the quality and longevity of life in wildlife that lives underwater. This process can also wipe away streamside vegetation, which constantly depends on constant levels of oxygen and temperature. By altering these natural environments, industries are essentially helping decrease the quality of life for these marines based life forms and can ultimately destroy habitats if they are not controlled and careful about their practices.
Soil Erosion: Soil erosion is another major factor that causes thermal pollution. Consistent soil erosion causes water bodies to rise, making them more exposed to sunlight. The high temperature could prove fatal for aquatic biomes as it may give rise to anaerobic conditions.
Deforestation: Trees and plants prevent sunlight from falling directly on lakes, ponds or rivers. When deforestation takes place, these water bodies are directly exposed to sunlight, thus absorbing more heat and raising its temperature. Deforestation is also a main cause of the higher concentrations of greenhouse gases i.e. global warming in the atmosphere.
Runoff from Paved Surfaces: Urban runoff discharged to surface waters from paved surfaces like roads and parking lots can make water warmer. During summer seasons, the pavement gets quite hot, which creates warm runoff that gets into the sewer systems and water bodies.
Decrease in DO (Dissolved Oxygen) Levels: The warm temperature reduces the levels of DO (Dissolved Oxygen) in water. The warm water holds relatively less oxygen than cold water. The decrease in DO can create suffocation for plants and animals such as fish, amphibians and copepods, which may give rise to anaerobic conditions. Warmer water allows algae to flourish on surface of water and over the long term growing algae can decrease oxygen levels in the water.
Increase in Toxins: With the constant flow of high temperature discharge from industries, there is a huge increase in toxins that are being regurgitated into the natural body of water. These toxins may contain chemicals or radiation that may have harsh impact on the local ecology and make them susceptible to various diseases.
Loss of Biodiversity: A dent in the biological activity in the water may cause significant loss of biodiversity. Changes in the environment may cause certain species of organisms to shift their base to some other place while their could be significant number of species that may shift in because of warmer waters. Organisms that can adapt easily may have an advantage over organisms that are not used to the warmer temperatures.
Ecological Impact: A sudden thermal shock can result in mass killings of fish, insects, plants or amphibians. Hotter water may prove favorable for some species while it could be lethal for other species. Small water temperature increases the level of activity while higher temperature decreases the level of activity. Many aquatic species are sensitive to small temperature changes such as one degree Celsius that can cause significant changes in organism metabolism and other adverse cellular biology effects.
Affects Reproductive Systems: A significant halt in the reproduction of marine wildlife (although this may be true, reproduction can still occur between fish – but the likelihood of defects in newborns is significantly higher) can happen due to increasing temperatures as reproduction can happen with in certain range of temperature. Excessive temperature can cause the release of immature eggs or can prevent normal development of certain eggs.
Increases Metabolic Rate: Thermal pollution increases the metabolic rate of organisms as increasing enzyme activity occurs that causes organisms to consume more food than what is normally required, if their environment were not changed. It disrupts the stability of food chain and alter the balance of species composition.
Migration: The warm water can also cause particular species of organisms to migrate to suitable environment that would cater to its requirements for survival. This can result in loss for those species that depend on them for their daily food as their food chain is interrupted.