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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 72.djvu/346

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

with reference to that of the cells which take their oxygen from it. Yet is it none the less true that the supply of oxygen in most lakes is very small as compared with that of an animal, and the mechanism for renewing it is always very inefficient as compared with the demand for the gas.

The disadvantage of the lake in the matter of respiration appears still more clearly when we consider the means of transporting the oxygen from the region where it is absorbed—the surface—to the deeper parts of the lake, where much of it is to be used. The animal shows a complex and very efficient mechanism for the circulation of the blood; an apparatus whose complexity and efficiency are in large measure determined by the necessity for a rapid distribution of the oxygen and a rapid disposal of the gaseous wastes of the body. In the lake the means of transport are three: diffusion, by which the gas is slowly passed from point to point in the water independently of currents; currents produced by the wind; and convection currents, produced by the cooling of the surface water to a temperature below that of the water beneath.

Diffusion is a process which operates rapidly when the distances are minute, but whose efficiency decreases greatly as the distances increase. In our lungs, or the gills of a fish, for instance, where the distance between blood and air is measured in thousandths of an inch, the process of diffusion goes on with great rapidity. But where, as in the lake, the distances are measured by inches or by feet, or even by scores of feet, the process is practically worthless for the processes of distribution. By diffusion alone oxygen would penetrate the lake only to the depth of a very few feet in a whole season. While diffusion, therefore, plays an active and important part in the exchange of gases between the individual plant and animal and the water immediately surrounding it, it has little or nothing to do with the general circulation of gases within the lake.

During the fall, when the lake is cooling, convection currents aid materially in carrying oxygen down to considerable depths. The surface water, saturated with oxygen, cools, becomes heavier, and sinks, carrying the gas with it. The same process takes place at night in summer, but ordinarily to very small depths. In general, we may say that during early and mid-summer, before the period of general cooling begins, these processes do not extend to greater depths than ten or fifteen feet. At the season, therefore, when vital processes are most active and the need for oxygen is greatest, convection currents afford a minimum of assistance in distributing it. The main reliance, therefore, for the distribution of oxygen is in the third factor, the wind. This, as already said, is very efficient when the lake is uniform in temperature; but during the spring, as the lake warms, it becomes in-