APR 07, 2018 05:04 PM PDT

Think twice before you pee in this pond

Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts was made famous by Henry David Thoreau after his experience of living shore-side for two years. He later described his connection to the nature he found in and around the beautiful tree-lined pond in his book, Walden; or, Life in the Woods. But, according to new findings, that’s not the only way that the pond might go down in history: it has now become the hot-spot – quite literally – for a novel sort of human relief: pee.

The new study, published in PLOS One, comes from Dr. Jay Curt Stager, a researcher at Paul Smith’s College in the Adirondacks. Dr. Stager and team explain in their report the impact that human urine has had, and continues to have, on Walden Pond’s ecosystem, stating: “More than half of the summer phosphorus budget of the lake may now be attributable to urine released by swimmers.”

Stager's students collect data from Walden Pond. Photo: CBC via Curt Stager

Turns out, there may be a reason that water is so warm and yellow. Human urine left by the thousands of visitors who visit Walden Pond every year to relive Thoreau’s vision and escape the Boston summer heat has built up over more than a century, raising phosphorous and nitrogen to levels to unhealthy concentrations. Usually excess amounts of phosphorous and nitrogen are blamed on the rampant use of fertilizers, but in this case, the researchers were able to pinpoint a different source: stealthy peeing swimmers and waders. (Yeah, you’re not foolin’ anyone when you only go in waist-deep, stand still a minute, and come right back out again.)

But, what’s the problem with a little extra phosphorous and nitrogen? Excess of these elements means algae can grow much more quickly. This growth means they block the sunlight for other freshwater plants growing on the bottom of the pond. But the bigger impact happens when the algae die. In the following act of decomposition, assisted by specialized bacteria, oxygen is in the water is depleted, creating a hypoxic environment and killing off fish populations. Climate change, of course, makes the situation worse, by warming the water and creating an even more suitable environment for algae.

Walden Pond is also threatened by construction, landscaping, deforestation, path-clearing, and, seemingly, just human contact in general. Good job making it such as sought-after gem, Thoreau. The report suggests that “swimmer-education programs” are needed in order to protect the pond from further degradation.

All this is to say that the once pristine pond that Thoreau described is under threat if everybody doesn’t start holding it in on a more regular basis.

Sources: Boston Magazine, CBC, NBC News, PLOS One

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
DEC 17, 2018
Videos
DEC 17, 2018
The 15 year-old who is taking the world by a storm
Fifteen-year-old environmental justice activist Greta Thunberg from Sweden took the climate talks at the COP24 summit by the horns with her barely over thr...
DEC 23, 2018
Videos
DEC 23, 2018
Happy holidays?
It's great to get into the holiday spirit, but there's no way around it: some things about the holidays are just not healthy - for us and for the p...
JAN 02, 2019
Chemistry & Physics
JAN 02, 2019
A "Nu" Way to Study the Impact of Microplastics
Microplastics particles (MP), often in the forms of fibers, beads, and pellets, are fragments broken off plastic waste. With a size no more than 5.0 millim...
JAN 31, 2019
Earth & The Environment
JAN 31, 2019
The link between climate change and congenital heart defects
New research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association details a frightening reality: climate change may likely increase the number of bab...
FEB 04, 2019
Earth & The Environment
FEB 04, 2019
Rethinking how we predict earthquakes
Last September Indonesia’s Palu region was struck by a 7.5 magnitude earthquake that resulted in over 2,000 deaths. In the aftereffects of the quake,...
FEB 11, 2019
Plants & Animals
FEB 11, 2019
Researchers Are Cooling Down Sea Turtle Nests for Conservation Purposes
Climate change impacts all kinds of wild animals, including several varieties of sea turtles – many of which are now recognized by the International...
Loading Comments...