Education, Early Career, Outreach

What is Aquatic Science?

Aquatic science is the study of the planet's oceanic and freshwater environments. Oceanography is the study of the biological, chemical, geological, optical and physical characteristics of oceans and estuaries, while limnology is the study of these same characteristics in inland waters (lakes, rivers, streams, ponds, and wetlands).

Limnology (from Greek limne, “lake” – logos, “knowledge”): Limnology is the study of inland waters – lakes, reservoirs, rivers, streams, wetlands, and groundwater. Scientists who study these waters are called limnologists.

Oceanography (from Greek Okeanós, “Oceanus” (a water deity) – grápho, “about a specified subject”): Oceanography is the study of the Earth’s oceans, and scientists who study them are called oceanographers.

What do Aquatic Scientists Study?

Aquatic scientists use comparative studies, long term data, models, and theory to address a myriad of questions pertaining to water: water movement, water chemistry, aquatic organisms, aquatic ecosystems, movement of materials in and out of aquatic ecosystems, and the use of water by humans, just to name a few disciplines. Aquatic scientists study processes that cover time scales ranging from less than a second to daily, weekly, monthly, seasonal, annual, decadal, or geological (millions of years), and spatial scales ranging from millimeters to ecosystems to ocean-wide.

Many aquatic scientists work at the boundaries of disciplines and therefore they often work in interdisciplinary groups. For example, physical and biological oceanographers collaborate to understand the effect of physical processes on organisms, while chemists and biologists work together to understand the ways in which the chemical constituents of water bodies interact with plants, animals, and microorganisms such as bacteria.

Aquatic scientists may be working at the scale of trying to understand global oceanic change or quantifying the global flux of methane from inland waters. Conversely, they could be working at the local, trying to understand the source of a pollution problem in a drinking water supply or working to conserve a local endangered population.

For more information on what types of questions aquatic scientists ask, check out this ASLO Bulletin article from August 2013 on the top 10 paradigms and the top 10 problems to solve in the aquatic sciences.