The Amazing Meromictic Lake

A few weeks ago I took the kids on a hike through a nature trail up in beautiful Gatineau Park. The park is just over the border into Quebec, about 30 minutes from my house in Ottawa and I figured it would be a nice outing. Up in the park there are so many amazing trails that choosing one over another can be difficult. I needed one that wasn’t too long for 7 – 9 years olds but long enough to give them some exercise and to enjoy their natural surroundings. I remembered years ago visiting a trail called Pink Lake and when I checked it out online I found it was only 2 km long which, I figured, was perfect. Besides remembering that the trail was a really nice one, the only other thing I knew was that the lake was a beautiful shade of turquoise, despite its name (it was named after the Pink family who lived in the area). I was eager to show it off to the kids.

Pink Lake Observation Deck

The interesting thing about the Gatineau Park trails (aside from the astounding beauty) are the abundance of information signs. These signs are posted along the trail, give you further insight into your surroundings – much more than, unless you were a geologist or biologist, you would be able discover on your own. The introductory sign at Pink Lake describes it as a Meromictic Lake. The essence of a meromictic lake is that the surface waters and the lower waters never mix. Because of the shape of the lake and that it is surrounded by hills on all sides, it gets very little wind across it to stir the waters. The bottom 7 metres (23 feet) of water in the lake, therefore, has no oxygen in it. It has been this way for 10,000 years!

Reminded Me of a Shot I took in the Mediterranean (Click to see)

Very little life can live in these oxygen-free waters. Only a prehistoric organism, the pink photosynthetic bacterium, inhabits them and uses sulphur instead of oxygen to transform sunlight into energy. Another form of life in Pink Lake, that lives within the oxygenated waters, is the Three-spined Stickleback fish, also of prehistoric origins. The Stickleback was a salt water fish left behind by the Champlain Sea which used to cover the area during the late glacial period, 12,000 to 10,000 years ago. Over time, the Stickleback adjusted to the desalination of the lake and now exists as a freshwater fish!

The Huge Contrast of Water Colour

The unfortunate thing is that the environment at Pink Lake is very delicate. Gatineau Park conservationists have worked very hard to reduce the impact of visitors by building walkways and asking visitors not to stray from the paths, nor to remove foliage or animals natural to the area. Although the waters look inviting, the beautiful turquoise hue is due to a dangerous algae in the waters which could, if it continues to take over the oxygen, suffocate the entire lake. Although, naturally, this process usually takes 1000’s of years, before the strict visitor guidelines were put in place, the process had been sped up to the point it may have taken only a few decades. Now it may be preserved for several generations to come.

Enjoying the View from the Trail

If you’re ever in the area it is a unique and fascinating, not to mention breathtaking, place to visit. There is also, along the trail, an old Mica mine which was dug and mined around the turn of last century. Pieces of Mica surround the deep gorge where the mine used to exist. My son found this part very interesting. So, there are lots to see! Strap on your hiking shoes, bring your camera, and look forward to a great journey and to learn a little history of the area along the way.

Our Little Friend the Chipmunk
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9 thoughts on “The Amazing Meromictic Lake

  1. I think you and your family are really fortunate to have this natural treasure that close to home. I am pretty sure they wiill rememeber this day as one of their favorite ones.

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    1. I hope they do, Gabriela. I think kids are more likely to remember a day at a theme park more favourably than a walk on a nature trail, but I know they enjoyed it that day and I’m looking forward to doing another one…soon.

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  2. That’s the first time I hear about meromictic lakes, which in turn triggered my interest and made me spend a couple of hours searching for information. They are not at all uncommon although certainly fewer in numbers than holomictic lakes (where at least once a year some mixing of water layers occur). This raises an important question, if we have the technology to change things, to sort of bring life back to the depths of this lake, should we interfere? Oxygen (air) could be somehow pumped in, or wind diverted into blowing over the surface. It could be costly but the question remains valid, should we or shouldn’t we lend a helping hand to nature? My first impression is to say sure, why not. Humans are inadvertently or intentionally causing tremendous damage to the environment, so why not do the opposite instead.
    This delicate ecosystem needs a force majeure, or human action to reverse the trend toward an eventual end. But it could be argued that like a lightening induced forest fire or a pack of African hyenas eating a baby lion belonging to an almost extinct clan while we watch, a meromictic lake is best left alone to decay and die. What do you think?
    Oh, I forgot to complement you on the beautiful photography and the well written post, as always.

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    1. Hi Abufares. Well, it’s the first time I’ve heard of a meromictic lake too. Even if they are not that uncommon, I believe it is still unique to this particular area.

      As for your question…I don’t know. I usually defer to conservationists who know better than I. Although your idea seems logical and smart, the only work they have done is to try to reverse the effects of human damage. Perhaps it is that we don’t know the eventual outcome of good intentions. Maybe by trying to fix it, we would unbalance something else. (That seems to be the message in Prodigal Summer)

      Thanks for your comment. You always know how to get me thinking! 🙂

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