Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Environmental Engineering (PhD)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering


Alex S Mayer


Anthropogenic activities have increased phosphorus (P) loading in tributaries to the Laurentian Great Lakes resulting in eutrophication in small bays to most notably, Lake Erie. Changes to surface water quality from P loading have resulted in billions of dollars in damage and threaten the health of the world’s largest freshwater resource. To understand the factors affecting P delivery with projected increasing urban lands and biofuels expansion, two spatially explicit models were coupled. The coupled models predict that the majority of the basin will experience a significant increase in urban area P sources while the agriculture intensity and forest sources of P will decrease. Changes in P loading across the basin will be highly variable spatially.

Additionally, the impacts of climate change on high precipitation events across the Great Lakes were examined. Using historical regression relationships on phosphorus concentrations, key Great Lakes tributaries were found to have future changes including decreasing total loads and increases to high-flow loading events. The urbanized Cuyahoga watersheds exhibits the most vulnerability to these climate-induced changes with increases in total loading and storm loading , while the forested Au Sable watershed exhibits greater resilience.

Finally, the monitoring network currently in place for sampling the amount of phosphorus entering the U.S. Great Lakes was examined with a focus on the challenges to monitoring. Based on these interviews, the research identified three issues that policy makers interested in maintaining an effective phosphorus monitoring network in the Great Lakes should consider: first, that the policy objectives driving different monitoring programs vary, which results in different patterns of sampling design and frequency; second, that these differences complicate efforts to encourage collaboration; and third, that methods of funding sampling programs vary from agency to agency, further complicating efforts to generate sufficient long-term data to improve our understanding of phosphorus into the Great Lakes.

The dissertation combines these three areas of research to present the potential future impacts of P loading in the Great Lakes as anthropogenic activities, climate and monitoring changes. These manuscripts report new experimental data for future sources, loading and climate impacts on phosphorus.

LaBeauSuppl.xlsx (785 kB)