Advances in Limnology and Oceanography

Instructor: Marc Chiacchio

Marc has taught Bachelor level students climate science and has a PhD in climate science.

Recent progress has been made in limnology and oceanography dealing with the interactions between ecosystems and climate change. In this lesson, we will examine the recent effects that climate change has had on the Earth's ecosystem.

Concepts of Limnology, Oceanography and Ecosystems

Have you ever came across a pond or lake and noticed fish at the bottom and insects at the top? You may also notice plants that also live at the bottom. The interaction of these living and non-living species including their environment, such as the sunlight, water, and temperature, is known as the ecosystem.

There are two main types of ecosystems: terrestrial and aquatic. In this lesson we will be focusing on the aquatic type such as the freshwater ecosystem. Studies concentrating on bodies of freshwater in terms of their biological, chemical, and physical features is within the field of limnology. Examples of freshwater bodies include rivers, ponds, lakes, bogs, and freshwater swamps.

Another major type of ecosystem that we will focus on is the marine ecosystem, which includes any living and non-living organism in salt water. When you're at the beach next time pay attention to the animal life that you may see such as a sand crab and the tide that runs over it when the waves retreat back to the sea.

When scientists studies these types of ecosystems, they are also studying the field of oceanography. Oceanography is the science of the ocean in terms of its physical, chemical, and biological features including the ecosystem. We will discuss now the latest advances in limnology and oceanography involving the effects of climate change on the freshwater and marine ecosystem.

Freshwater Ecosystem and Climate Change

Recently if you have read in the newspaper and on TV, you might have heard lots of discussion on global warming or climate change. Global warming is the rise in the Earth's average surface temperature over the past century mainly due believed to be caused by increased concentration levels of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel burning. This carbon dioxide acts as a greenhouse gas, which has the ability to trap infrared radiation or heat escaping from the Earth's atmosphere. This then raises the surface temperature. You might have experienced this warming on a cloudy night, whereby the clouds act as a blanket to keep the heat from escaping.

Because lakes are spread throughout the globe and respond quickly to climate change, scientists can easily identify certain indicator variables in a lake that are affected by this change. These indicator variables deal with the physical, chemical, or biological aspects of the lake.

Just as you might conduct an experiment in a classroom, lakes can serve as a good laboratory to study the effects of climate change. They are very sensitive to any change in temperature and by measuring the temperature over time with a thermometer, you would get a good idea how the temperature of the lake has changed over time.

If after some time you measure a large rise in temperature, such as over two summers, you may begin to notice that certain cold-water fish are no longer present as they have traveled to colder water. You might also notice warmer water fish in this area of the lake, which can better thrive in this type of water.

Another key indicator of climate change in lakes are changes in color where warmer lake temperatures amplify their colors. This has to do with the amount of plankton living in the lake, which are organisms that include algae. When a high amount of plankton are observed, this is known as a phytoplankton bloom. For example, over time you might notice that the color of the lake has changed from a pale green color to a deeper green. This is a strong indicator that the lake temperature and amount of plankton has increased.

Example of a phytoplankton bloom in a lake.

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