19: A History of Paleolimnology (Part 1: The Elder Days)

“All have their worth and each contributes to the worth of the others” – John Ronald Reuel Tolkien

Our latest podcast begins a new multi-episode arc: A History of Paleolimnology, examining how many branches of science came together to produce our favourite sub-discipline.

Our deep dive into the roots of paleolimnology was inspired by John Smol’s lecture “A Brief History of Paleolimnology”, that we saw for the first time at the inaugural Ontario-Québec Paleolimnology Symposium. John has generously shared his slide deck with us, and we hope that delving into this material in a podcast format will allow additional details and tangents to be explored.

All histories require a starting point, but as paleolimnology is the “interdisciplinary science that reconstructs the paleoenvironments of inland waters”, identifying the point it emerged as a distinct scientific discipline is quite difficult. Logically, it must pre-date the establishment of a dedicated scientific society (the constitution of the International Paleolimnology Association was formally adopted in 2006), journal (the first issue of the Journal of Paleolimnology was released in 1988), or meeting (the first International Paleolimnology Symposium wash held in 1967 in Tihany, Hungary). If there is enough interest for all of these things, the subject must be older, but how much older?

At its core, paleolimnology is a sub-discipline of limnology interested in sedimentary processes. However, many other fields are also fundamental to modern paleolimnology (e.g. optics, taxonomy, statistics, etc.), each with their own development history and lots of cross-pollination. So, perhaps working backwards isn’t the best way to identify the beginning. Instead, lets jump all the way back to the Renaissance and skip through time highlighting key figures and contributions that were critical to the eventual development of paleolimnology.

I believe our adventure through time has taken a most serious turn…

The Scientific Revolution pushed against literal interpretations of the Bible as the Middle Ages drew to a close, and that is where we begin our list of key scientists and scientific contributions:

The work of these scientists (and many more) laid the foundations for paleolimnology. Next time we will continue with a look at how these discoveries and concepts were put together by early “paleolimnologists.”

Standing on the Shoulder of Giants

Episode 19 can be found here.