5/18/2019 7:30:00 AM The Lake Where You Live
Waiting for the sun
Ted Rulseh Columnist
It's the sun that charges the food chain in our lakes by powering photosynthesis in algae, which form the base of the food chain. It's also the sun that triggers the seasonal cycles we'll be seeing in our lakes with increasing speed as May warms into June.
As we all learned in grade school, water warms more slowly than land. That's because water has a higher heat capacity. It takes more heat to raise the temperature of a given weight of water by one degree than to raise the temperature of land by the same amount. In fact, it takes about five times as much. To put it a different way, the heat it takes to raise water's temperature by one degree would raise the temperature of rock by five degrees.
But although the water is warming somewhat slowly, it's warming indeed, and lake life is responding, as if all the living things in the water and in the bottom sediment were waiting through the long winter for the sun.
Frogs and toads were among the first to take notice; they've been calling for several days now (though mainly they're marsh and swamp rather than lake creatures). Northern pike, muskies and walleyes have finished spawning; other species will follow; the largemouth and smallmouth bass, then the bluegills and crappies, all obeying the command of rising water temperature.
Turtles are up and around now, shaking off their winter lethargy; I saw one just yesterday, a painter, I believe, its head poking up through a mirror-still surface. It won't be long before we see painters and snappers crossing the roads, and digging holes in roadside sand and gravel to deposit their eggs.
Down in the bottom sediment, in places where we see remnants of last year's cabbage weed, bulrushes, lily pads and pickerelweed, green shoots are starting to push upward, helped along by direct sunlight and the heat of the sun's rays warming the sand and muck.
Many new water plants will spring up from thick, starchy rhizomes buried in the bottom. Others will emerge from seeds, and still others from turions, the winter buds that many water plants form and then shed in the late summer and fall.
The water right now is about as clear as it will be until next winter. The algae are just starting to grow and reproduce. As they do, the water clarity will decline and so will the Secchi disc readings taken by volunteer lake monitors.
Of course another species responds to the sun: Homo sapiens. Around our lakes more and more piers reach out from shore, boats moored alongside. Canoes and kayaks are deployed on racks. Anglers are limbering up their casting arms.
We've waited a long time for this, for the sun. One thought I try to suppress each spring as I piece the pier together is how fleeting the warm season will be, and how long the winter when it comes again. Then again, maybe that thought shouldn't be suppressed but emphasized.
It's time to seize the days. To seize the sun.
Ted Rulseh resides on Birch Lake in Harshaw and is an advocate for lake protection and improvement. His Lakeland Times and Northwoods River News columns are the basis for a book, "A Lakeside Companion," published by The University of Wisconsin Press. Ted may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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