There you sit, on your folks’ porch swing, watching the rain come down and plowing through your bag of pork rinds and a six-pack of Mountain Dew, while browsing through your dad’s worn copy of What Color is Your Parachute*, reading it and wondering “what in the !$#@$&%*# am I supposed to do with my life after I finish off these chips?” As you gloomily stare at the puddles (the only way you’ve looked at puddles since you were four and loved to jump in them) forming outside on the rainy street, this could be your critical moment; take note.
Note *What Color is Your Parachute is the tome that generations before you—and probably those long after you, since it gets updated every year—have turned to in an attempt to answer that question above you so gracefully asked of yourself (the “what the…?” question).
If we were in your wet shoes, we might immediately consider becoming a limnologist. Certainly the biggest tool of the trade you need is forming right in front of that porch: that puddle that, if it kept filling up, might become a lake—exactly what limnologists crave (probably even more so than pork rinds and super-caffeinated sodas).
Before we tell you what limnology is exactly, let’s dispel with what you might think it is: Limnology is not the study of limes (although that would be a great course of study for professional margarita makers). It is also not the study of limbs. It is an ology; a sort of ecology, an environmental science: It’s the study of (wait for it)….inland waters. You know, lakes, ponds, rivers, springs, wetlands—things like that. Fresh or salt water, your choice.
You know that lake you swam in every summer at Grandma and Granddad’s summer house, where you caught crawdads with your brother, taught your little sister to swim in, and rowed across that exotic out-of-state girl, Mary Katherine Gallagher? That lake you loved, crystal clear, with hardly any algae? It might have been (and maybe still is) an oligotrophic lake, low in nutrient levels and really high in oxygen. If it had been a eutrophic lake it would have looked different because it might’ve had much higher levels of nutrients with algae blooms everywhere. And if it were—heaven forbid—a dystrophic lake it would have contained high levels of organic matter that’s decayed as far as it can go and the water would’ve been a sort of tea or yellowy color. (Maybe not even toe-dipping water.) Consider how a change in those classifications with regard to your grandparents’ lake house might’ve have changed your view of swimming, summers, fishing, even young love…
As we move on, if that previous paragraph made you want to jump into a lake—any lake—just stop reading here and go find another career to consider. There are plenty of careers that involve the study of water: hydrology, hydrobiology, bathymetry, oceanography and marine biology. So, if that’s more your thing, away you go….and remember to drag your feet along the sand where sting rays have been spotted…
So you’re still here—good! We can use a good limnologist. The word itself comes from the Greek limne which means “lake” but of course, as mentioned before you’ll also get to study streams, inlets, ponds—any sort of inland water, be it fresh or salt water. (Oh yes: inland water can be salt water too. A couple of examples are Utah’s Great Salt Lake and tidal wetlands, near the Atlantic, Pacific, Alaskan and Gulf coasts.)
As a qualified limnologist, you may work for a university or a governmental agency—regional or even federal, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (the EPA), and you’ll get to incorporate some of your other scientific interests and knowledge into your field of study, such as meteorology, ecology and general biology.
Limnologists study the water levels and water health, make reports about them and send them off to be published as scientific papers or articles for publication or for their employers, for textbooks, etc. They also study the animals in and around these various bodies of water and make recommendations for how to manage things like population, disease, conservations and more. They’ll also study and report on the wildlife and people who rely on these bodies of water. Limnologists have a variety of duties, as you can see. They can also specialize in sub-categories of limnology, as you’ll see in a bit.
A limnologist is someone who loves being outdoors, pays close attention to detail and is not someone who gives up on things too easily. We mention that because as you know, sometimes nature holds its secrets close and one must have patience to draw them out. (Think about it: pork rinds. A pig is part of nature but what is the rind of the pig and why is it so darn tasty?!)