PULLMAN, Wash. – As long as ecologists have studied temperate lakes, the winter has been their off-season. It’s difficult, even dangerous, to look under the ice, and they figured plants, animals and algae weren’t doing much in the dark and cold anyway.
But an international team of 62 scientists looking at more than 100 lakes has concluded that life under the ice is vibrant, complex and surprisingly active. Their findings stand to complicate the understanding of freshwater systems just as climate change is warming lakes around the planet.
“As ice seasons are getting shorter around the world, we are losing ice without a deep understanding of what we are losing,” said Stephanie Hampton, a Washington State University professor and lead author of a study published in the journal Ecology Letters. “Food for fish, the chemical processes that affect their oxygen and greenhouse gas emissions will shift as ice recedes.”