Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Limnologist Nina: the lake doctor is in

Well, it's about time I told you a little more about me...I'm a limnologist. No, that isn't someone who studies limbs. It comes from a Greek word limnos, which means fresh water. I study fresh water (e.g., lakes, rivers, ponds), and everything that's in it and around it. Heck, I even received a masters of science degree in it. I worked for a while in several universities and colleges, teaching biology courses, then decided to get out into the "real world" and became an environmental consultant. It means that I get to zoom around in speed boats, take water and sediment samples then analyse them and write reports for clients that teach them how to be good environmental citizens (see my posts on environmental citizenship--May 14-17, 2007, posts).

One of the things I do in my work is study water quality, what affects it and how to fix it. Limnologists define water quality in terms of its chemical, physical and biological properties. There's no magic bullet to measure water quality; we use several measurements in a kind of weight-of-evidence approach. Water quality is somewhat subjective, based on perspective. For instance water used for drinking can be used for irrigation but not all water used for irrigation is potable or will meet drinking water standards. A common phenomenon that limnologists study is something called "eutrophication". Eutrophication describes the natural process of aging for a lake or pond, with the gradual input of nutrients and sediment from erosion and precipitation. When the process is sped up through the release of nutrients and industrial and municipal effluent and poor land use practices, then we have a problem. Enhanced eutrophication is characterized by algal blooms (that scummy layer on the surface), excessive weeds, increased pests and fish kills.

Here are a few facts about water that might interest you:

  • Some very simple organisms can survive without air, but none can grow without water.

  • About 83% of our blood is water. It helps digest our food, take in oxygen, transport body wastes, and control body temperature.

  • Freshwater lakes, rivers and underground aquifers hold only 3.5% or the world's water. Saltwater oceans and seas hold most of the rest.

  • 30% of the earth's fresh water exists as ice in the form of glaciers and ice caps.

  • Canada has more lake area than any other coutnry in the world.

  • 10 litres of water is needed to manufacture 1 litre of gasoline.

  • 1000 kilograms of water is required to grow 1 kilogram of potatoes.

  • One litre of oil can contaminate up to two million litres of water.

  • Many homes lose more water from leaky taps than they need for cooking and drinking.
Next post, I'll talk a little bit about urban waterways and their unique properties and challenges.

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit Visit for more about her writing.


Jean-Luc Picard said...

Really enlightening, Nina. Thanks for telling me.

Nina Munteanu said...

My pleasure, Jean-Luc! I just love it when you visit. I think you'll like my Friday post. It's my dinner party and YOU are the guest of honor!

Nick Phillips (15/03/1967 - 04/11/2022) said...

Hi, interesting post. The things I didn't know about water:) You be totally appalled if you came and studied the water over here. The rivers are so badly polluted, the fishes and microorganisms would rather live on land! Even the very basic water that comes out of our taps which by right, we should be able to drink without any filters are a horrible mess. And we call ourselves a developed country, someone here sure doesn't know the meaning of developed! I love looking at images of the lakes, rivers and streams you guys have over there , so clean and nice :)

S. Camille said...

Very interesting sfgirl! Water is something that I've always revered. Beyond the sanctity I feel that it is imminently the most useful substance in the world. I love a world with water in it!


Nina Munteanu said...

Hey, where are you from, Nick? Maybe someone over there can hire me, the lake doctor... :)

Nina Munteanu said...

Camille, I couldn't agree more. As DaVinci said, "Water is what drives Nature."

Nick Phillips (15/03/1967 - 04/11/2022) said...

I'm from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. We would probably need close to 4-5 gazillion 'lake doctors' to make things right here ... LOL!

Nina Munteanu said...

Hey, cool place to live, Nick! I've not been, but I have several relatives living in Kuala Lumpur.

Anonymous said...

Hi- Need help understanding how lake draw downs help maintain water quality. Something to do with dispersing organic nutrients in sediments.

Steve Bell
Lake Murray Watch
Columbia, SC

Nina Munteanu said...

I can certainly help you with that, Steve. I would need to know more information, though. You can contact me where I work:

G3 Consulting Ltd. 604-598-8501