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Lake stratification

Lake stratification is the separation of lakes into three layers:

1. Epilimnion - top of the lake.
2. Metalimnion (or thermocline) - middle layer that may change
depth throughout the day.
3. Hypolimnion - the bottom layer.
The thermal stratification of lakes refers to a change in the temperature at
different depths in the lake, and is due to the change in water's density with
temperature.Cold water is denser than warm water and the epilimnion
generally consists of water that is not as dense as the water in the hypolimnion.
However, the temperature of maximum density for freshwater is 4 C.
In temperate regions where lake water warms up and cools through the seasons
, a cyclical pattern of overturn occurs that is repeated from year to year as the
cold dense water at the top of the lake sinks. For example, in dimictic lakes the
lake water turns over during the spring and the fall. This process occurs more
slowly in deeper water and as a result, athermal bar may form. If the stratification
of water lasts for extended periods, the lake is meromictic. Conversely, for most
of the time, the relatively shallower meres are unstratified; that is, the mere is
considered all epilimnion.
The accumulation of dissolved carbon dioxide in three meromictic
lakes in Africa (Lake Nyos and Lake Monoun in Cameroon and Lake Kivu
inRwanda) is potentially dangerous because if one of these lakes is triggered
into limnic eruption, a very large quantity of carbon dioxide can quickly
leave the lake and displace the oxygen needed for life by people and
animals in the surrounding area.
Natural resource and environmental managers are often challenged by
problems caused by lake and pond thermal stratification. Fish die-offs
have been directly associated with thermal gradients, stagnation, and ice
cover.[7] Excessive growth of plankton may limit the recreational use of lakes
and the commercial use of lake water. With severe thermal stratification in a lake,
the quality of drinking water also can be adversely affected.]For fisheries managers
, the spatial distribution of fish within a lake is often adversely affected by thermal
stratification and in some cases may indirectly cause large die-offs of recreationally
important fish. One commonly used tool to reduce the severity of these lake
management problems is to eliminate or lesson thermal stratification through
aeration. Many types of aeration equipment have been used to thermally
destratify lakes. Aeration has met with some success, although it has rarely
proved to be a panacea.

The epilimnion or surface lake is the top-most layer in a
thermally stratified lake, occurring above the deeper hypolimnion.
It is warmer and typically has a higher pH and higher dissolved oxygen
concentration than the hypolimnion.
Being exposed at the surface, it typically becomes turbulently mixed
as a result of surface wind-mixing. It is also free to exchange dissolved
gases such as O2 and CO2 with the atmosphere. Because this layer
receives the most sunlight it contains the most phytoplankton. As they
grow and reproduce they absorb nutrients from the water, when they die
they sink into the hypolimnion resulting in the epilimnion becoming
depleted of nutrients.

A thermocline (sometimes metalimnion in lakes) is a
thin but distinct layer in a large body of fluid (e.g. water,
such as an ocean or lake, or air, such as an atmosphere)
in which temperature changes more rapidly with depth than
it does in the layers above or below. In the ocean, the thermocline
divides the upper mixed layer from the calm deep water below.
Depending largely on season, latitude and turbulent mixing by
wind, thermoclines may be a semi-permanent feature of the body of
water in which they occur or they may form temporarily in response
phenomena such as the radiative heating/cooling of surface water
during the day/night. Factors that affect the depth and thickness of
thermocline include seasonal weather variations, latitude and local
environmental conditions, such as tides and currents.

Most of the heat energy of sunlight is absorbed in the

first few centimeters at the ocean's surface, which heats

during the day and cools at night as heat energy is lost
to space by radiation. Waves mix the water near the surface layer and
distribute heat to deeper water such that the temperature may be relatively
uniform in the upper 100 m (300 ft), depending on wave strength and the
existence of surface turbulence caused by currents. Below this mixed layer
, the temperature remains relatively stable over day/night cycles.
The temperature of the deep ocean drops gradually with depth. As
saline water does not freeze until it reaches 2.3 C (colder as depth
and pressure increase) the temperature well below the surface is
usually not far from zero degrees.[1]
The thermocline varies in depth. It is semi-permanent in the tropics,
variable in temperate regions (often deepest during the summer) and
shallow to nonexistent in the polar regions, where the water column is
cold from the surface to the bottom. A layer of sea ice will act as an insulation blanket.
In the open ocean, the thermocline is characterized by a negative
sound speed gradient, making the thermocline important in submarine warfare
because it can reflect active sonar and other acoustic signals. Technically, this
effect stems from a discontinuity in the acoustic impedance of water created by the
sudden change in density.
When scuba diving, a thermocline where water drops in temperature by a few
degrees Celsius quite suddenly can sometimes be observed between two
bodies of water, for example where colder upwelling water runs into a surface

layer of warmer water. It gives the water an appearance of wrinkled glass

that is often used to obscure bathroom windows and is caused by the altered
refractive index of the cold or warm water column. These same schlieren can
be observed when hot air rises off the tarmac at airports or desert roads and is the cause
of mirages.

Other water bodies

Thermoclines can also be observed in lakes. In colder climates, this leads

to a phenomenon called stratification. During the summer, warm water,
which is less dense, will sit on top of colder, denser, deeper water with
a thermocline separating them. The warm layer is called the epilimnion
and the cold layer is called the hypolimnion. Because the warm water is
exposed to the sun during the day, a stable system exists and very little
mixing of warm water and cold water occurs, particularly in calm weather.
One result of this stability is that as the summer wears on, there is less and
less oxygen below the thermocline as the water below the thermocline
never circulates to the surface and organisms in the water deplete the
available oxygen. As winter approaches, the temperature of the surface
water will drop as nighttime cooling dominates heat transfer. A point is
reached where the density of the cooling surface water becomes greater
than the density of the deep water and overturning begins as the dense
surface water moves down under the influence of gravity. This process is
aided by wind or any other process (currents for example) that agitates

the water. This effect also occurs in Arctic and Antarctic waters, bringing
water to the surface which, although low in oxygen, is higher in nutrients
than the original surface water. This enriching of surface nutrients may
produce blooms of phytoplankton, making these areas productive.
As the temperature continues to drop, the water on the surface may get
cold enough to freeze and the lake/ocean begins to ice over. A new
thermocline develops where the densest water (4 C) sinks to the bottom,
and the less dense water (water that is approaching the freezing point)
rises to the top. Once this new stratification establishes itself, it lasts until
the water warms enough for the 'spring turnover,' which occurs after the
ice melts and the surface water temperature rises to 4 C. During this transition,
a thermal barmay develop.
Waves can occur on the thermocline, causing the depth of the thermocline
as measured at a single location to oscillate (usually as a form of seiche)
.Alternately, the waves may be induced by flow over a raised bottom,
producing a thermocline wave which does not change with time, but varies
in depth as one moves into or against the flow.


The lower atmosphere also typically contains a

boundary between two distinct regions (the troposphere
and stratosphere), but that boundary (the tropopause) displays
quite different behavior. However, atmospheric thermoclines, or

inversions, can occur, e.g. as nighttime cooling of the Earth's

surface produces cold, dense, often calm air adjacent to the ground.
The coldest air is next to the ground, with air temperature increasing
with height. At the top of this nighttime boundary layer (which may be
only a hundred meters) the normal adiabatic temperature profile of the
troposphere (i.e. temperature decreasing with altitude) is again observed
. The thermocline or inversion layer occurs where the temperature
profile changes from positive to negative with increasing height. The
stability of the night time inversion is usually destroyed soon after
sunrise as the sun's energy warms the ground, which warms the
air in the inversion layer. The warmer, less dense air then rises,
destroying the stability that characterizes the nightly inversion.
This phenomenon was first applied to the field of noise pollution
study in the 1960s, contributing to the design of urban highways
and noise barriers.[2]

Stratification (water)
Water stratification occurs when water masses with different properties
- salinity (halocline), oxygenation (chemocline), density (pycnocline),
temperature (thermocline) - form layers that act as barriers to water
mixing which could lead to anoxia or euxinia. These layers are normally
arranged according to density, with the least dense water masses sitting
above the more dense layers.
Water stratification also creates barriers to nutrient mixing between layers.
This can affect the primary production in an area by limiting photosynthetic
processes. When nutrients from the benthos cannot travel up into the photic
zone, phytoplankton may be limited by nutrient availability. Lower primary
production also leads to lower net productivity in waters.

Complicating Factors
Stratification may be upset by turbulence. This creates mixed layers of water.
Forms of turbulence may include wind-sea surface friction, upwelling and
Marshall et Al. (2002) suggest that baroclinic eddies (baroclinity) may be an
important factor in maintaining stratification.[3]

Ocean Stratification
Take away ideas:
1. Water & Climate: The ocean extends over 70.8% of the earth's surface. The ocean holds 98% of
the 1.4 billion cubic kilometers of water on the planet, divided within three major basins. The high
capacity and density of water relative to the atmosphere, and the great amount of energy required
for change of phase of water (solid - liquid - vapor) makes the ocean a powerful and stabilizing
force of the Earth's climate system. One obvious consequence of the ocean's influence is the
"marine effect", which acts to attenuate winter/summer and day/night extremes of air temperature.
Another is that the ocean circulation transfers significant amount of heat from low to higher
latitudes, helping the climate system to attain an approximate steady state condition. The ocean
is a key part of the global hydrological cycle, providing moisture for the atmosphere; ocean
circulation of freshwater balances the net evaporative and precipitation belts.
2. Sea Surface Temperature: The temperature of the sea surface is high (27-30C) near the
equator, often the maximum value occurs a few degrees of latitude north of the equator and low

(at the sea water freezing point of 1.9C) within the polar oceans. However, there are also
changes of sea surface temperature with longitude. Warmer water projects poleward along the
western boundaries of the ocean. The eastern tropical regions of each ocean are cooler than the
western tropical margin. These are due to the movement of seawater in the horizontal (ocean
currents) and vertical (upwelling/sinking) directions. Temperature and density of ocean water are
related inversely: warm water means low density, cold water means denser seawater. The salt
content of the water also affects Ocean density.
3. Sea Surface Salinity: Sea water is about a 3.49% salt solution, the rest is freshwater. The more
saline, the denser the seawater. As the range of salt concentration in the ocean varies from about
3.2 to 3.8%, oceanographers refer to salt content as 'salinity', express salt concentration as parts
per thousand; 34.9 ppt is the average salinity. As seawater evaporates the salt remains behind,
only the freshwater is transferred from the ocean to the atmosphere. A region of excess
evaporation, such as the subtropics tends to become salty, while the areas of excess rainfall
become fresher. Sea ice formation also removes freshwater from the ocean, leaving behind a
more saline solution. Along the shores of Antarctica this process produces dense water. Salinity
reflects the workings of the hydrological cycle: the movement of freshwater through the
earth/ocean/atmosphere system.
4. Below the Sea Surface: Waters warmer than 10C dominate the sea surface but do not extend
much below 500 m within the ocean; tropical and subtropical surface water provide is just a
veneer of warmth over a cold ocean; typical deep ocean temperature vary from 1 to 3C. The
sharp drop off in temperature with depth is called the thermocline. The warm surface water is
generally saltier than the cooler deep or polar waters. The halocline marks the drop of salinity
with depth that accompanies the thermocline. The surface water warmth overrides the saltiness in
governing density, so that the warm surface water regions coincide with buoyant (less dense)
water. In polar regions buoyancy of the surface layer is mainly a consequence of the freshness of
the surface water. Deep cold waters derive their properties at the sea surface during winter at
high latitude.
5. Deep Water Masses: The deep Atlantic is relatively salty (34.9). This water is derived from the
sinking of chilled saline surface water in the northern North Atlantic. The cooling makes the
surface water dense, forcing it to sink, or convect into the deep ocean, and spread southward at
depth. It is called North Atlantic Deep Water (NADW). In contrast the deep Pacific is lower in
salinity (34.7), as it experiences no deep convection of cooled salty surface water, its surface
layer is too fresh and buoyant to sink. Pacific deep water is derived from the lower salinity water
column of the southern ocean. Towards the sea floor, temperatures are near 0C marking the
presence of Antarctic Bottom Water (AABW) derived from the very cold (-1.9C; 34.65), dense
water along the shores of Antarctica. At the base of the thermocline is the low salinity Antarctic
Intermediate Water (AAIW) derived from sinking of cool (3 to 4C), low salinity waters (34.4) from
50 - 60S marking the Antarctic Circumpolar Current and ocean polar front zone.