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Limnology Lecture and Research Describes Dangerous Effects of Climate Change and HABs on Water Supply

By: Lindsey Brown

From the stars above our heads to the soil under our feet, lies the call for investigation and scientific inquiry. All around us lives an entire ecological universe awaiting further analysis and discovery. Included in this world of scientific study is limnology– the study of inland lakes. While not as common as other sciences, a deep understanding of our lakes’ ecosystems is understood through limnology research. At Miami University, this research is conducted in Dr. Craig Williamson’s Global Change Limnology Lab, specializing in the effects of varying water transparency alters the structure and function of lakes. On March 18, Thomas Brigband combined forces with the Global Change Limnology Lab and gave a lecture concerning the status of Lake Erie and the safety of its waters. Thomas Brigband, a Miami undergraduate, returned to his roots to give a lecture describing the effects of harmful algal blooms (HABs) on Lake Erie and its surrounding community. Brigband, after receiving his undergraduate degree, worked in the Peace Corps and then achieved his graduate degree from Ohio State in zoology. Brigand now works for the Lake Erie Center, the epicenter of HABs research for the lake.In his lecture on “The Great Green Goo of Lake Erie,” Brigand outlined the three tier focuses of the research conducted at the Lake Erie Center: fishery research, wetland restoration and HABs research. Concentrated in HABs research, Brigand surmises the heightened concentrations of HABs in Lake Erie to the greater levels of agriculture practices, proximity to the Maumee River and the extreme productivity of the lake, as Lake Erie has more fishing activity than all the other Great Lakes combined. The research stemming from Dr. Craig Williamson’s Limnology Lab attacks another form of water safety and sustainability through studying the effects of browning on aquatic environments and the sequential indirect effects on ecosystem functionality. The term ‘browning’ refers to the decreasing transparency of a lake’s waters due to increased amounts of carbon filtering into them. When less UV light is able to penetrate the water’s surface, due to its darker pigmentation, every organism is affected in varying degrees of severity, and ecosystems are disrupted. Fascinating scientific investigation is produced from the limnology lab, ranging from an orientation in public health to factors influencing climate change to the effects of solar UV radiation on mosquito larvae with an ecological perspective. Lakes, beside their popular recreation purpose, are vital water resources that often go under-noticed in concerns for environmental conservation. One significant subject of study in terms of public health is the growing understanding of HABs on lakes, and the indirect consequences on surrounding populations. HABs, such as Microcystis and Diatoms, are cyanotoxin producing blue-green algae that lay great threat to drinking water supplies, such as the HAB growth in Lake Erie. Public health measures are studied and shared with the general public in order to reduce the accidental exposure to HABs as well as advise the public on the hazardous effects of HABs. Other research coming from the limnology lab includes studying various elements contributing to climate change and their potential control of zooplankton concentration in aquatic environments. While seemingly rather specific information, zooplankton are vital organisms to both marine and freshwater ecosystems, forming the base foundation of the food and playing a critical role in the carbon cycle. By studying the effects of global change on zooplankton, we can better understand how aquatic ecosystems function as well as see the significance of zooplankton at a macroscopic level. Solar UV radiation, the light and energy beaming from the sun, penetrate lake waters into the ecosystem below, influencing the countless organisms in the lake’s depths. Recent research, conducted through Dr. Craig Williamson’s Global Change Limnology Lab, outlines the connection between decreased solar UV radiation exposure, due to the increased levels of carbon that reduce lake transparency, and the increased concentrations of mosquito larvae found in aquatic environments. This research provides a unique ecological perspective concerning the relationship between lake browning and mosquitoes. Meaningful and impressive research continues to unfold from researchers such as Thomas Brigband and the graduate students working in the limnology lab. Much more still remains in what we can understand about our lake water supplies and how our actions can lead to their decline. Researchers from Dr. Craig Williamson’s Global Change Limnology Lab suggest that students interested in environmental conservation take advantage of the many resources Miami University provides and become involved in a project they are passionate about in order to help make our world a better place.

Photo by Miami University's Limnology Lab