Students explore impacts of human activity on Lake Como over time

December 19, 2017 / By: SCP

To many, the bottom of a lake has little to do with learning about environmental changes over time.  During the Fall 2017 semester, however, students in GEOL 462 worked with the Metropolitan Council in a Sustainable Communities Partnership project to study Lake Como by looking at its sediment. 

“Lakes are able to record changes in climate and environmental changes in their layered sediments over time,” explained Carolyn Dykoski, who led the class. 

Students went out on Lake Como and used special instruments to take sediment lake cores. Then, they analyzed these samples at the University of Minnesota’s LacCore facility to determine how environmental conditions and the contents of the lake have changed over time. 

After they completed their analyses, students created fact sheets for the Metropolitan Council about their findings, including the impacts of fertilizers and salts that can runoff into waterways.  Students were seeing societal impacts on the environment in new ways as a result of their work. 

“This project helped me realize the environmental impact an individual can cause without even realizing it… the project will help inform individuals on how they can prevent further damage to their surrounding lakes,” explained Zachary Branum (’18). 

Seeing how environmental conditions showed up within the lake cores was impactful for students. 

“Being able to tell a full story [of the lake] over time was interesting and then being able to see it physically in the sediments was powerful,” said John Duggan (’19). 

One goal of the project was to highlight how the lake has been heavily modified by human activity, including fertilizer, sediment, and road salt input.  By better understanding how lakes have changed over time, it is possible to discuss how to help return the lake to healthy conditions.

As Dykoski emphasized, “It really makes you think about the fertilizers and salt that you put on your yard/sidewalks when you see the impact first-hand in the lake sediments as that material gets washed into lakes as runoff.”