Some features of this site are not compatible with your browser. Install Opera Mini to better experience this site.

Whiting in Lake Michigan

full time-series
Summer 2001 (3.7 MB JPEG)
Summer 1999 (1.3 MB JPEG)

Satellites provide a view from space of changes on the Earth’s surface. This series of images from the Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-view Sensor (SeaWiFS) aboard the Orbview-2 satellite shows the dramatic change in the color of Lake Michigan during the summer. The bright color that appears in late summer is probably caused by calcium carbonate—chalk—in the water. Lake Michigan always has a lot of calcium carbonate in it because the floor of the lake is limestone. During most of the year the calcium carbonate remains dissolved in the cold water, but at the end of summer the lake warms up, lowering the solubility of calcium carbonate. As a result, the calcium carbonate precipitates out of the water, forming clouds of very small solid particles that appear as bright swirls from above. The phenomenon is appropriately called a whiting event. A similar event occured in 1999, but appears to have started later and subsided earlier.

It is also possible that a bloom of the algae Microcystis is responsible for the color change, but unlikely because of Lake Michigan’s depth and size. Microcystis blooms have occured in other lakes in the region, however.

On the shore of the lake it is possible to see the cities of Chicago, Illinois, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Both appear as clusters of gray-brown pixels.

Image courtesy the SeaWiFS Project, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, and ORBIMAGE