Kangerlussuaq is a land of lakes. They extend from the town to the ice sheet like glass stepping stones. It was at one of these lakes, one less than a mile from the ice sheet, that we learned about the life under the surface.
Ruth and I had walked past this particular lake several times before. It is surrounded by yellow grass and sparse willow. The wind blowing off the ice sheet creates ripples in the water and a chill in the air.
What hardy underwater creature could possibly survive here?
As it turns out, we had been walking past a veritable circus of limnology without knowing it! Elephant snot, fairy shrimp, sea tomatoes, and predaceous diving beetles are just some of the crazy, colorful organisms that call this lake home.
Jess and her field assistant Zach spent the day giving Cohort 4 a sample of the field methods used to learn about the organisms and their habitat.
After slipping into hip waders, we threw plankton nets into the lake to find zooplankton (animals) and phytoplankton (plant-like organisms). We pulled out elephant snot, which is a thick, slimy green alga, large bellied Daphnia the size of oatmeal flakes, copepods, and beetle larvae (Colymbetes dolabratus) with a nasty bite.
Jess quickly found a fairy shrimp swimming near the shore and netted it (Branchinecta sp.). It has approximately 40 legs that move like a wave, gliding the body through the water.
To investigate the planktons’ home, we paddled out on the kayak-catamaran research vessel equipped with plenty of instruments. Because the lake was shallow enough, and the wind strong enough, the water mixed to produce constant temperatures throughout the water column. No cold basements or hot attics in this lake house!
We brought our specimens back to camp to have a closer look and identify them. The large guts of the Daphnia were transparent so that their green lunch was clearly visible. The copepods, small crustaceans, were bright orange and carried a bundle of blue eggs.
For a small lake near the ice sheet, the diversity of life was astounding. As we marveled at the various life forms, we learned some proper limnology lingo and contributed some of our own:
“Got ‘plank in your tank?”
“Yep, ‘zope in my ‘scope.”
…Which roughly translates to:
“Do you have plankton in your petri dish?”
“Yes, I am observing zooplankton in my microscope.”
“How scientifically interesting. “
Thanks, Jess and Zach, for introducing us to Arctic limnology!