John P. Smol

in Ecology

ISBN: 9780199830060
Published online May 2012 | | DOI:

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  • Applied Ecology (Environmental Science)
  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Plant Ecology
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The study of inland waters, such as lakes and rivers, is called limnology. However, one of the biggest challenges faced by ecological and environmental sciences is the lack of long-term monitoring data. Fortunately, lake and river sediments archive a diverse library of information that can be used to reconstruct past aquatic and terrestrial communities, and to infer past environmental conditions. Paleolimnology (also spelled palaeolimnology) is the multidisciplinary science that uses the physical, chemical, and biological information (i.e., proxy data or indicators) preserved in sediment profiles to reconstruct past environmental conditions in inland aquatic systems. The overall principles used by paleolimnologists are quite simple, and they are similar to those used by paleoceanographers. Accumulating sediments (if left relatively undisturbed) provide an important stratigraphic archive of past biota and other environmental conditions. Using the law of superposition, which states that for any undisturbed sedimentary sequence, the deepest deposits are the oldest (since these are progressively overlain by younger material), so that a depth-time profile slowly accumulates. Using a variety of dating techniques, researchers can estimate the age of sediment layers, and thus provide a temporal perspective of past environmental change. The job of the paleolimnologist is to interpret the information contained in these profiles in a way that is meaningful to other scientists and the public at large. Paleolimnology has seen tremendous advances over the last twenty-five years or so. Although the field of paleolimnology also includes the study of rivers, in practice most studies have focused on lake ecosystems, because fluvial systems are more difficult to study (i.e., it is more difficult to obtain undisturbed sedimentary sequences in fluvial systems).Each year, however, more papers are being published from diverse aquatic habitats. Paleolimnological approaches are now used to study a wide variety of basic and applied problems. Given the ecological focus of this article, almost all of the citations are primarily biological. However, as described in the sources cited under Textbooks, paleolimnology also encompasses a broad spectrum of physical, chemical, and geological sciences.

Article.  11037 words. 

Subjects: Applied Ecology (Environmental Science) ; Ecology and Conservation ; Plant Ecology ; Zoology and Animal Sciences

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