Mesochasm: The Mini Aquatic Ecosystem

by Gabrielle DeMarco on December 13, 2009

Does anyone else remember that Pauly Shore movie Bio-Dome? If not, you aren't missing much except some pretty scientifically-questionable antics taking place within a biosphere - a contained, self-sustaining ecosystem. OK, so what does Pauly Shore mistaking an international environmental experiment for a mall have to do with sophisticated Rensselaer research? Well, the researchers might not enjoy the analogy, but in essence they are bringing the Bio-Dome concept underwater with the aquatic equivalent of the biosphere - the mesochasm.

Their research, which takes place at the Darrin Freshwater Institute, provides important and detailed information on how different environmental contaminants impact delicate freshwater environments.

The physical mesochasm structures are comprised of heavy layers of plastic secured to large, sturdy rings set directly into the waters of beautiful Lake George in the Adirondack Mountains. The mesochasms used in the most recent studies on the lake were approximately 25 feet deep and 2-3 feet wide. Each was filled with water from the lake, including all its various minerals, bacteria, phytoplankton, and zooplankton. The outside environmental forces and temperature then remain the same as the rest of the lake.

The fully-contained mesochasms then provided a miniature Lake George ecosystem that the experimenters would wreck havoc on - in true Pauly Shore fashion - without risking the clean surrounding lake waters. An example of the environmental mayhem is the introduction of septic wastes to simulate what would happen to the water quality and biota in the event of a large-scale sewer system failure. Another, is the introduction of high amounts of calcium and chlorine, which could be introduced from the runoff from heavily salted winter roads.

Scientists from as far away as Norway and Germany have already taken part in the experiments. Initial findings using the mesochasms are expected soon and additional experiments are already being planned.

Watch the above video on the mesochasms.