Because of the increasing importance of interdisciplinary aquatic science in solving environmental problems, in 1994 the National Research Council appointed an expert committee, the Committee on Inland Aquatic Ecosystems, to recommend ways to strengthen limnology programs within U.S. educational institutions. The committee included limnologists and aquatic scientists in related fields from academia, state and federal government, and the private sector. This report presents the committee's findings. It reviews the history of limnology and its role in solving contemporary water problems. Based on this history and society's current needs, it recommends improved ways to educate future limnologists.
Traditionally, limnologists have been perceived as scientists who study primarily the biological properties of lakes. However, modern limnologists define their science broadly; they view it as covering the biology, physics, and chemistry of all inland waters, including rivers and wetlands as well as lakes. Some scientists who study primarily streams or primarily wetlands, including several committee members, identify themselves as limnologists as well as stream or wetland scientists, while others do not. Regardless of where one draws the line in deciding whom to call a limnologist, lakes, rivers, and wetlands are interconnected, and the sciences that study them are closely allied. Understanding of lakes is incomplete without some knowledge of how wetlands and rivers affect them, and vice versa. Whether or not one agrees with the broad definition of limnologist, limnology can serve as a paradigm for interdisciplinary water science in general. Improvements in the teaching and study of limnology will benefit other, closely allied aquatic sciences—as well as society as a whole—by leading to new research breakthroughs and raising the profile of both aquatic ecosystems and the sciences necessary for understanding how to protect them.
The Clean Water Act and other efforts to control waste discharges to waterways have noticeably improved the condition of some water bodies (well-known examples include Lake Erie and the Potomac River), but many lakes, rivers, and wetlands in the United States remain degraded or at high risk. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency recently reported to Congress that 44 percent of river miles are unsuitable for one or more of the uses (boating, swimming, or fishing) designated by state water managers, and 57 percent of lakes are unsuitable for one or more of these uses. The causes of this degradation extend beyond the pollution sources that have been the focus of pollution control efforts over the past 25 years (primarily direct wastewater discharges from industries and