Stephanie Hampton.

By Stephanie Hampton, WSU professor in environmental sciences, and colleagues

Historically, research on inland waters has focused on the warmer months of the year. Limnologists have mostly avoided studying lakes in winter, especially lakes that experience seasonal ice cover, as if dynamics beneath the ice were unimportant.

But multiple lines of evidence now present a compelling case that winter is indeed a fascinating and important time for lakes. Under dark conditions, when snow and ice obscure light penetration, degradation of organic material already in lakes still occurs, and when clear ice allows some light through, this light can fuel primary production to levels even higher than those in summer.

Winter fieldwork on lakes is still difficult and dangerous, particularly on ice-covered lakes. Thus, although basic understanding about winter limnology has increased in the past decade, the pace of scientific progress has not kept pace with rates of ecological change.

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