Spotlight on Science: Limnology

One of the reasons I’m so passionate about science is all the fancy words and okay, while you can’t do UNDERGRAD in Limnology, you can certainly rock the Ph.D or post-doc work in it.

It’s also called “Freshwater science” but that has fewer greek roots and is much, much too understandable to put in the title of a blog post. It’s like Oceanography but for inland waters – I don’t know if you looked at the trophic levels of lakes at high school but if not, LET ME REGALE YOU WITH IT HERE.

Put very simply, lakes can have living stuff in them, or they can not. The scale goes from oligotrophic (from oligo – meaning “a few” or “little”), through mesotrophic (meso-, meaning “middle”) into eutrophic and hypereutrophic (eu- meaning “good” or “well”) – and see below for a sweet picture detailing this. (exciting side note: lakes where the nutrient balance is all wrong are referred to as dystrophic)

Trophic levels of a lake.
Trophic levels of a lake.

So, Oligotrophic lakes at one end of the spectrum have little algae but high oxygen, whereas a hypereutrophic lake  has a lot of algae and very low oxygen, which can be severely detrimental to the fish species living there.

Being able to classify lakes in this manner (generally done by measuring algal biomass) means that we can accurately track changes in a lake, and potentially observe the effects things have on them – ranging from a thunderstorm to nutrient run-off.

Limnology is important because much of our fresh water comes from, well, fresh water. Lake classification is the easiest bit to explain, but, as with most sciences, it inhabits a world on the borders of many major parts of science; from chemistry to geology and geography to aquatic ecology and hydrobiology.

As well as the International Society of Limnology, New Zealand also has it’s very own Freshwater Sciences Society. As a country to some degree obsessed with our “clean, green” image, it’s a science we hold very dear. It’s a surprisingly interesting field of science, and in our fair, clean, green, unmarred by dairy run-off nation, the worst you can get when investigating inland bodies of water here is a few mozzie bites, or a lahar. (When it comes to a choice between a pyroclastic flow or leeches, it’s really a no-brainer.)

So! Limnology, the study of freshwater bodies. You are now more informed.

Sophia, who still can’t work out if an estuary is inland or oceanic, and where the cross-over might occur in the miles of mangrove swamps that can exist.

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