Project Summary

The EcoFore team published a synthesis of the project in the Journal of Great Lakes Research in 2014.  A copy of that paper is here.

Many of the investigators in this project are also part of a team exploring similar processes and models focused on Western Basin toxic algal blooms.  That project can be explored here.

The Story of EcoFore

Lake Erie is Dead

lake erie is deadIn the 1960s and 70s, the status of Lake Erie became a national story when, due to a host of environmental issues, it was declared ecologically “dead” in the media. It was a dramatic statement and not entirely factual, but the phrase did bring attention to what was happening in the Lake Erie ecosystem.

Regulations and restoration efforts revived the health of Lake Erie, until the 1990s and more recently, when hypoxic (low oxygen levels) conditions again emerged. Despite the efforts already in place, the lake is showing signs of distress — and more research is needed to figure out why. As a result, the EcoFore project, short for Ecological Forecasting, began.

The project created, tested and applied models to forecast how anthropogenic (land use, invasive species) and natural (climatic variability) stresses influence hypoxia formation and ecology, with an emphasis on fish production.

Project Objectives and Models

Watershed Projects


  • To generate P (phosphorous) load  estimatesFigure 13
  • Quantify watersheds P mass balance estimates
  • Evaluate agricultural conservation practices
  • Develop models of hydrology and nutrient loading

Model Used: Soil Water and Assessment Tool (SWAT)Process-based model that uses spatial parameters and includes components of surface hydrology, weather sedimentation, soil temperature, crop growth, nutrients, pesticides and ground water. It simulates the effects of land uses on water, nutrient, and sediment delivery from watersheds.  Modeling predictions can be generated for a daily, monthly or annual time frames.

Hypoxia Projects


hypoxia modelAssess three causative factors (climate, phosphorous, mussels) for the onset, spatial extent, and duration of hypoxia in the central basin

Models Used:

  • One Dimensional (1D) Thermal & Water Quality Model: Linked temperature to water quality relating hypolimnetic oxygen to temperature, thermal stratification, solar radiation, P concentrations, and phytoplankton dynamics. Enabled determination of thermal structure and impacts of P hypoxia modelloading to inter-annual hypoxia variability in central basin hypoxia.
  • Three Dimensional (3D) Hydrodynamic Water Quality Model: Based on the POM hydrodynamic model.  Uses hourly wind stress and heat flux forcing at surface level. Analysis produced data on velocity and direction, temperature and turbulence on an hourly basis. It also included river discharges and P inputs from 21 tributaries including the Detroit River and two outflows. Upon calibration with historical data, the model was verified through comparison with data predictions from the 2005 IFYLE.

Fish Impacts


Fish Squeeze

  • Characterize relationships between hypoxia, fish production and harvest
  • Forecast fish population response to hypoxia under different scenarios
  • Forecast trophic-level and fisheries harvest responses to hypoxia under different scenarios to guide management and policy decisions

Models Used:DSCF0008

  • Spatially Explicit Growth Rate Potential (SE-GRP): Applied to assessments of fish habitat quality. A bioenergetic modeling approach that incorporates non-linear interactions between oxygen availability and other variables such as temperature and prey density. Used to examine how physical environment affects fish growth and production. Model focused on rainbow smelt, yellow perch and walleye.
  • Individual Based Bioenergetics Models (IBM): Bioenergetic modeling approach that assess fish population with dynamic lower trophic level models. Used to determine effects of stressors on individual behavior, growth and survival and follows a daily time step.
  • Comprehensive Aquatic Simulation Model (CASM): Offers probability data on survival and growth of aquatic species. Was modified for Lake Erie and its biomass values extending from basin to lake scale effort in determining ecological response to hypoxia.


The outcomes of the models and the research has been summarize in the project’s Final Report and Synthesis Paper, and Key Findings