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Study: Lake Ecologists See Winter As a Key Scientific Frontier

Lake ecologists looking winter as a key scientific frontier for underwater ecology management. (Image courtesy: Google(

Scientists have long studied about the effects of ice and snow above the lake surface to the ecology down the lake. This ice is found to affect the ecological growth of various plants and habitats below the lake surface.

As long as the ecologists have studied temperate lakes, winter has been their off season.

It’s quite difficult and even dangerous to look under ice and they ultimately figured plants, animals and algae which weren’t doing much in the dark and cold anyway.

An international team of 62 scientists looking at 100 lakes has concluded that life under the ice is vibrant, complex and surprisingly active.

winter ice will have significant impact over underwater ecology. (Image Courtesy: Google)
Winter ice will have significant impact over underwater ecology. (Image courtesy: Google)

Effect of Ice Over Underwater Systems:

These findings are standing to be complicated for understanding the freshwater systems, as climate change is warming lakes around the planet.

Stephanie Hampton who is a professor at Washington State University and lead author says, “As ice seasons are getting shorter around the world, we are losing ice without a deep understanding of what we are losing. Food for fish, the chemical processes that affect their oxygen and greenhouse gas emissions will shift as ice recedes.”

Liz Blood who is a program director in the National Science Foundation’s Division of Environmental Biology says, “A lake doesn’t go to sleep when it’s covered with a blanket of ice and snow. While winter’s lower temperatures and light levels may force lake life into a slower mode, algae and zooplankton are still abundant. What will happen if lake ice cover decreases in warming temperatures? These results are a significant step in understanding what may be far-reaching changes for lake ecosystems.”

Research is published in the journal Ecology Letters. Research is funded by National Science Foundation’s Division of Environmental Biology.

Effect of Analysis Over Winter and Rest of the Year:

Fresh water is fundamental to the society. We are using it for the case of drinking, manufacturing, energy production, irrigation and fish – which is an important source of protein in developing world.

Even Global Warming is expected to change what we value in the fresh water, as study co-authored by Hampton last year found lakes warming around the world.

Newer study is finding what is happening in the winter can also have a substantial effect over what happens during rest of the year.

It is quite true for lakes which is letting in a lot of sunlight. Even it is simulating growth of algae and zooplankton over underside of the ice. This in turn would be serving as a food source for the fish during start of their growing season.

Hampton who is having extensive experience studying Lake Baikal in Russia, world’s deepest lake says, “In some lakes where the ice is really clear and there’s not very much snow cover, there can be a lot of photosynthesis and a lot of productivity. So there were some lakes in this study where the productivity in winter actually exceeded the productivity you would see in summer.”

He even said that his colleagues has seen “a unique little micro-ecosystem” under the ice, which were having filaments hanging down from the subsurface. Further adding she says, “It’s interesting to think about these lakes that get a lot of light through the ice. Russian researchers who spend a lot of time on Baikal remind us that when you get ice, now you’ve got a new habitat. It can be a vast habitat extending across the entire lake.”

Research Data and Analysis:

Marine biologists has documented a key role of sea ice over supporting polar food webs.

Aaron Galloway from Oregon Institute of Marine Biology, who is a co-author and was post doctoral fellow at WSU says, “Under sea ice, you see the growth of foods higher in beneficial fatty acids and contributions as high as 30 percent to overall annual productivity.”

Yet until this study, freshwater scientists were unable to make any sort of estimates like that. Investigations regarding freshwater bodies were just too spotty.

Indeed, the International Society of Limnology’s Plankton Ecology Group, which has been highly influential in aquatic science, has developed a theoretical model of lakes which incorporates the interplay of plankton, nutrients, temperatures and mixipg.

In 2011, group said in effect that winter was being overlooked. It was quite a strong statement regarding how little we know about winter says Hampton.

So she and her fellow lake ecologists has posted a request for data over a listserv of professional colleagues while expecting maybe 30 responses.

They got 140 responses from various researchers having measurements of various winter conditions, like plankton and nutrient levels they can further be compared to summer values.

Findings obtained has varied a lot which often depend on whether a lake was covered with clear ice or covered with snow which blocked most light.

Author’s Views:

Hampton adding to the same says, “In some cases, we know that zooplankton under ice are really important for seeding the populations that will take off in the summer and grow to be more abundant.”

In other cases, there might be algae which are consuming large amounts of nutrients under the ice so the summer algae are having lesser for their own growth.

Climatic change is standing to introduce another set of considerations. Quite number of things are changing with climatic change.

It is actually affecting the characteristic of the ice itself, according to Hampton. Ice season can be shorter. There can be lesser snow which has let in more light. Even there can be more rain during the formation of ice while making the ice cloudy.

While predicting this changes, she says that this won’t be straightforward. Regardless of this, lake scientists would require to break out their winter gear.

Hampton adding to the same says, “Overall, this study tells us that immunologists no longer have any off season. No more down time, especially as we’re losing ice so rapidly.”

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