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Limnologists are scientists who study the physical, chemical, and biological properties of lakes, rivers, and streams. They study abiotic characteristics, such as stratification and water chemistry, as well as biotic elements, such as aquatic vegetation, algae, microbes, and invertebrates. Limnologists and their work play a vital role in protecting freshwater resources, and Canadian researchers are global leaders in the field.
At a glanceImagine you are at the helm of a small boat, bobbing on the waves of a large lake, about 50 metres from shore. You are a limnologist and you have spent the last few hours gathering water samples from different spots in the lake as part of an environmental assessment. You are here because a large petrochemical company wants to build a refinery on the lakeshore, but before construction can be approved, an environmental assessment must be carried out to determine the potential effects of the refinery on the surrounding environment. As an expert in aquatic ecosystems, you have joined the assessment team to investigate the impact the refinery could have on the lake's health. As a limnologist, you have been part of many environmental assessments that looked at the impact of industry on lakes and streams. Aquatic biota are sensitive to changes in their environment, making your assessment a critical component of the environmental review. You begin by gathering baseline data to give you a better picture of the current status of the lake's biotic and abiotic characteristics. You use a temperature probe to measure water temperature at different depths. Temperature changes with depth in lakes, which produces stratified layers that affect the amount of oxygen and nutrients available, influencing where biota can live. You then link physical characteristics to water chemistry, which will be determined from laboratory analysis of the water samples you've collected. You also gather data on the aquatic communities, including fish, algae, plants, and zooplankton. You can use this information on species richness and abundance to construct a food web to predict the potential impact of an industrial development, spill, or climate change scenario. All the baseline data you gather will be used to provide a picture of the water quality of the lake before the establishment of the refinery and will be included in the environmental assessment. From the environmental assessment it will be decided if the refinery project should go ahead and what the petrochemical company needs to do to ensure that the refinery's impacts are minimized.
Job dutiesDuties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as a limnologist:
- Collect water samples and data on lake and river characteristics, for example temperature, dissolved oxygen, and fish surveys.
- Conduct lab work such as preparing reagents and samples and performing chemical analyses, for example alkalinity, pH, conductivity, and turbidity.
- Consult and communicate with shoreline land owners, developers, and cottagers to ensure healthy lake and stream systems.
- Collaborate with federal, provincial, and municipal governments to manage the environmental impacts of human consumption and waste on waterways.
- Identify fish, plants, phytoplankton, zooplankton, and other aquatic biota.
- Conduct research, including statistical analysis of data, testing scientific hypotheses, comparisons of results to other work done, and writing reports and scientific papers.
- Participate on technical teams preparing river basin management plans.
- Review monitoring reports.
- Prepare proposals for grants to support research and projects.
- Act as an expert witness on aquatic ecosystems at Environmental Impact Assessment hearing review panels, legal proceedings, and class action suits.
Work environmentLimnologists work in a variety of locations, including: In the office:
- Doing paperwork and analyzing data for reporting
- Reviewing monitoring reports and Environmental Impact Assessments
- Developing monitoring programs
- Communicating on the phone and in meetings with clients, government departments, and the public, and presenting report findings
- Researching new technology and advancements in limnology, and consulting with other limnology professionals
- Collecting water and biotic samples
- Recording qualitative and quantitative data
- Training and educating various stewardship groups
- Studying aquatic organisms
- Analyzing water samples for chemical variables
Where to workThere are a number of places limnologists can find employment. They include:
- Federal, provincial/territorial, and municipal government departments
- Colleges, universities, and research institutes
- Environmental and engineering consulting firms
- Not-for-profit and non-governmental environmental organizations
Education & requirementsIf you are a high school student considering a career as a limnologist, you should have strong marks or an interest in:
- Aquatic Biology
- Environmental Science