#Lake365 project aims to track lake changes with social media

A University of Minnesota researcher started the hashtag project in January.

Wesley Hortenbach

Every day, University of Minnesota biologist Lesley Knoll takes a photo of Lake Itasca from the same spot in her office and tweets it out with “#Lake365.”

Knoll, an Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories biologist, founded year-long photo project #Lake365 in January to document changes in Lake Itasca. Now, she and co-founder Sarah Princiotta from Murray State University hope the movement will catch on among scientists as a way to network, communicate about lake science and learn about other lakes.

As of February, scientists from 15 lakes in nine states and five countries, from Alaska to New York and Ireland to Norway, are participating in the year-long project by taking a photo in the same spot each day.

Each scientist who becomes involved has their own specialized interested within limnology, Knoll said. Princiotta, for example, said she uses the project to observe algae blooms in Kentucky Lake, which are important to track because excess algae takes up oxygen, killing fish.

For Knoll, the project is similar to parents taking pictures of their babies every day.

“I think it’s going to create a really cool science [communication] tool to get people thinking what happens to the life of a lake, and hopefully I can pick up on the different frequency of algal blooms and use that in my research,” Princiotta said.

Documenting small changes is an effective way to visually monitor long-term change in a lake environment, Knoll said. For example, at the end of the year, scientists will be able to compare the ice melt dates to years past, which could shed light on the impacts of climate change, she said.

But for some, like University of Minnesota-Duluth biology professor Bob Sterner, #Lake365 is just a fun way to connect with other academics who love lakes. Sterner said he’ll participate in the project by taking a photo of Lake Superior every day — even on the weekends. 

Recently #Lake365 has extended beyond lakes to encompass streams with #Lotic365. Streams have distinct, changing qualities to track, like water color, Princiotta said.

At the end of the year, Knoll and Princiotta hope participants will make GIFs of each lake’s photos.