Muckraking Mendota: Breaking the Surface Barrier

by Emily Hilts
While walking along the lakeshore to my first day of work, I spotted a smallmouth bass hanging out in the rocky shallows of Lake Mendota. After watching for a minute, it finally struck me … the water was clear. I could see the bottom! So much for the scummy cesspool I’d imagined. Why was it so transparent? (The investigation is still underway… stay tuned next week for the full report!)
Whatever the cause, this was an opportunity to get underwater and take a look around.

Not exactly the cesspool I'd imagined...Lake Mendota in the clear water phase. Photo: A. Hinterthuer
Not exactly the cesspool I’d imagined… Photo: A. Hinterthuer

The surfaces of lakes, as beautiful as they can be, act as a shield that prevent us landlubbers from seeing aquatic ecosystems. Can you imagine studying a forest from its border, taking all the data from instruments and pulling out animals in traps? It would be difficult to “know” the woods without ever hiking in them. That’s essentially what limnologists have to do with lakes. We often don’t actually go in the water, and, for the most part, neither do people who enjoy lakes recreationally. There’s a whole hidden landscape right underneath our docks and boats. If we could see what is going on down there, those images alone could help us understand these ecosystems – in a way that scientific facts just can’t. For great underwater pics and video, keep reading…