Mountain Lakes - Scientists in Action: Video Transcript

Kevin Rose [Zoology graduate student]: Hi, my name is Kevin Rose. I'm a graduate student in the Department of Zoology at Miami University advised by Dr. Craig Williamson. Every summer we journey out from Ohio, where Miami is, to mountains out west: from the Canadian Rockies to the U.S. Rockies, from Yellowstone National Park to Glacier National Park.

Our research focuses on remote, high-elevation alpine lakes. These lakes are the gems of the Rockies. If you've ever hiked out to one of these types of lakes, you know the sort of beauty I'm talking about. But these lakes mean more to us than just beauty. They also act as water supplies for towns and cities throughout the US. They also are sensitive indicators — sentinels — of climate change and other environmental processes.

Our research focuses on these lakes because we can tell a lot about what's going on in the surrounding landscape by looking within the water.

UV radiation — the same sunlight that gives us a sunburn on a sunny day — increases with elevation. With peaks of up to over 10,000 feet in elevation, the Rockies can get really high UV. The lakes in these areas can be exposed to extremely high UV but, at the same time, the water can be really cold. This can create a difficult habitat for organisms that live in these lakes. How do they survive? What do they do? We study zooplankton in these lakes. We've found that UV can really influence the behavior of these zooplankton. The same way that we can put on sunscreen on a sunny day, zooplankton can acquire sunscreens through their diet.

Our landscapes are changing in ways never seen before. High-elevation lakes respond to these changes and integrate these changes as they drain the broader landscape. It's estimated, for example, that all the glaciers in Glacier National Park will be gone by 2030. These rapid changes will have important implications for the lakes, rivers and streams that exist within the watershed. The organisms that inhabit these lakes will also have to change to respond to temperatures and other changes in terrestrial vegetation. Our research is aimed to try to understand how these changes will influence the quality of the water as well as the organisms that inhabit these lakes.

We are making some progress in understanding what changes are currently underway and in predicting how future environmental changes will affect high mountain lakes. While our research expeditions are beautiful and a lot of fun, they are also challenging, both physically and intellectually. Such research is critical, however, if we are to understand how our natural world works, how it is changing, and what those changes mean for us.

[December 2009]