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Amid environmental change, lakes surprisingly static

In recent decades, change has defined our environment in the United States. Agriculture intensified. Urban areas sprawled. The climate warmed. Intense rainstorms became more common. But, says a new University of Wisconsin–Madison study, while those kinds of changes usually result in poor water quality, lakes have surprisingly stayed the same.

The authors of the article, published online Wednesday in the journal Global Change Biologyassessed changes in measures of water quality, including plant nutrients and algal growth, in 2,913 U.S. lakes from 1990 to about 2011. The researchers found that, “despite large environmental change and management efforts over recent decades, water quality of lakes in the Midwest and Northeast U.S. has not overwhelmingly degraded or improved.”

That doesn’t mean there were no notable trends. For example, 10 percent of the study lakes were getting “greener,” or seeing more algae blooms and plant growth, while only five percent were experiencing clearer water conditions. Still, the vast majority of lakes were stuck in a sort of water quality status quo.

The meaning of these results depends on your perspective, says Samantha Oliver, lead author of the report and a graduate student at UW–Madison’s Center for Limnology.

Read more at University of Wisconsin-Madison

Image: A new study by UW–Madison graduate student Samantha Oliver (pictured) says despite major environmental changes and water quality management efforts, most Midwestern and Northeastern lakes have not overwhelmingly degraded or improved over recent decades. (Credit: Samantha Oliver)


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This project has received funding from the European Union Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement n° [613680].

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