More Than 70 Years of Data
4:00 am
Tue May 13, 2014

Citizen Science Data Show Improving Water Clarity in Northwoods Lakes

A new study on lake clarity across eight Midwestern states relies solely on data from citizen scientists.

WXPR’s Natalie Jablonski spoke with Noah Lottig, a research scientist based at the UW Madison Trout Lake Station, about the study’s significance.

Boom Lake, Rhinelander
Boom Lake, Rhinelander
Credit Natalie Jablonski / WXPR News

The records dated back to the late 1930s and spanned eight Midwestern states.  The trend across more than three thousand lakes was a slight increase in water clarity.  And in Wisconsin and Minnesota, that trend was stronger in the northern regions.

“We saw evidence of greater increases in water clarity the farther north you go.  So as you go up to northern Wisconsin, northern Minnesota to regions that are forested, we end up seeing stronger evidence that the lakes in these regions show increased water clarity.” 

Lottig says that may be because agricultural uses in the southern part of the state tend to result in runoff that may impact water clarity.

Lottig also notes this is study is one of the first to use citizen data to look at such broad scale patterns – in this case, eight states over more than seventy years. 

“Citizens can provide critical data to understand how these systems are changing through time, and over space that we just don’t have the ability as scientists or state agencies to collect.” 

About half of the sechi disk observations came from Wisconsin.  Lottig says that shows just how dedicated many Wisconsin residents are…in terms of paying attention to lakes in their area.