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Northwoods limnologists trudge onto ice to continue lake measurements in winterSubmitted: 02/03/2016

Ben Meyer
Managing Editor / Senior Reporter
bmeyer@wjfw.com


BOULDER JUNCTION - Several times each winter month, Tim Meinke and his team members bundle up, pack their snowmobile with scientific instruments, and head onto the ice.

They're limnologists at the UW-Madison Trout Lake Station in Boulder Junction, and they study lakes. The team is proving that lake study isn't just a summertime job.


"We occasionally run into fishermen going on or off the lake," said Meinke, a senior researcher at the station. "No one ever suspects that we're there for anything other than fishing."

Meinke made that comment while sticking an instrument through the ice on Crystal Lake near Boulder Junction. A passerby could be forgiven for thinking he was ice fishing.

But Meinke and his three-member team weren't there to fish. Instead, they were measuring the levels of zooplankton, oxygen, light, and other environmental forces affecting the water.

But wait—don't limnologists take those measurements only in the summer, when lakes are changing dynamically?

"The common perception is, in the winter, not much happens," said Noah Lottig, a research scientist at the station.

But the lakes are staying busy, so limnologists do too.

"For the most part, lakes are surprisingly active," Lottig said. "There are a lot of different types of chemical reactions that are going on, changes in the chemistry of lakes, and also changes in the biology."

"The idea that it's just a storage refrigerator under there for the winter is pretty common, and we're learning that that's not really true," Meinke agreed.

About 35 years worth of dedicated research on seven Northwoods lakes—both in summer and in winter—has shown the change in those lakes to be nearly constant. 

The scientists put their measurements into an database called Long Term Ecological Research.Those measurements give scientists a better view of what's happening with the plankton, plants, chemical makeup, and even fish under the water's—or ice's—surface.

"If we could, we wouldn't say [It's] a dog-eat-dog world," Meinke said. "It would be a fish-eat-fish world, because it can get pretty vicious down there."


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