Skip to main content

Dr. Jonathan J. Cole

Limnologist | PhD, Cornell University

Freshwater ecosystems, biogeochemistry

Jonathan J. Cole: In Memory
January 14, 1953 - July 25, 2023

Cole had been an emeritus scientist since 2014. Cole was a member of both the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. A former president of the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography, Cole was also a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Geophysical Union. He was the author or co-author of about 230 peer reviewed scientific papers and several books.

During his active research career, Cole studied the sources of carbon and its movements in rivers, lakes, and estuaries, with a focus on the connections between these ecosystems and their surrounding watersheds. He and colleagues showed that at a global scale, up to 50 percent of the carbon that is stored in soils is eventually exported to streams, rivers, and lakes, in the form of particles and dissolved organic matter or turned to carbon dioxide in these inland aquatic environments. The realization that inland waters play a role in the regional and global carbon cycle changed the way modelers have approached carbon sequestration on land.

Because of this large transfer of land-based carbon to surface waters, the food webs of aquatic ecosystems are often partially supported by their watersheds. Working in both the Hudson River and in Wisconsin lakes, Cole and colleagues determined the size of this subsidy to fish populations and to invertebrate consumers. To put the question in simple terms, are fish and other aquatic consumers made of carbon that originates from aquatic plants or maple leaves?

Cole’s research showed that a surprisingly large fraction of the biomass of fish (and of the aquatic invertebrates they consume) is derived from land-based carbon. Using ambient radiocarbon (carbon-14), Caraco and Cole determined that organic carbon in the Hudson River is 1,500 to 5,000 years old. Some invertebrates in the Hudson, notably zooplankton, consume this ancient carbon. Thus, the food web in the Hudson is connected to carbon that was sequestered on land thousands of years ago.

Studies of food webs appear solely academic, but these answers have struck a chord with fishermen. As fishing is the second largest recreational activity in the United States, being able to talk with fishermen about where their fish come from offers an exciting opportunity to educate and interest a significant public group about ecology.

Wilkinson, Grace M., Stephen R. Carpenter, Jonathan J. Cole, Michael L. Pace, Ryan D. Batt, Cal D. Buelo, and Jason T. Kurtzweil. 2018. “Early Warning Signals Precede Cyanobacterial Blooms In Multiple Whole-Lake Experiments”. Ecological Monographs 88 (2): 188 - 203. doi:10.1002/ecm.1286.
Prairie, Y.T., Jukka Alm, Jake J. Beaulieu, Nathan Barros, T. J. Battin, Jonathan J. Cole, P. A. del Giorgio, et al. 2018. “Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Freshwater Reservoirs: What Does The Atmosphere See?”. Ecosystems 21 (5): 1058 - 1071. doi:10.1007/s10021-017-0198-9.
Cole, Jonathan J. 2017. “How Many Limnologists Does It Take To Fix The Plumbing? The Established Researcher”. The Bulletin Of The Ecological Society Of America 98 (2): 100 - 102. doi:10.1002/bes2.1316.
Wilkinson, Grace M., Cal D. Buelo, Jonathan J. Cole, and Michael L. Pace. 2016. “Exogenously Produced Co2 Doubles The Co2 Efflux From Three North Temperate Lakes”. Geophysical Research Letters 43 (5): 1996 - 2003. doi:10.1002/2016GL067732.
Liu, Heping, Qianyu Zhang, Gabriel G. Katul, Jonathan J. Cole, F. S. Chapin III, and S. MacIntyre. 2016. “Large Co2 Effluxes At Night And During Synoptic Weather Events Significantly Contribute To Co2 Emissions From A Reservoir”. Environmental Research Letters 11 (6): 64001. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/11/6/064001.
Pace, Michael L., Ryan D. Batt, Cal D. Buelo, Stephen R. Carpenter, Jonathan J. Cole, Jason T. Kurtzweil, and Grace M. Wilkinson. 2016. “Reversal Of A Cyanobacterial Bloom In Response To Early Warnings”. Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences 114 (2): 352 - 357. doi:10.1073/pnas.1612424114.
Batt, Ryan D., Stephen R. Carpenter, Jonathan J. Cole, Michael L. Pace, Robert A. Johnson, Jason T. Kurtzweil, and Grace M. Wilkinson. 2015. “Altered Energy Flow In The Food Web Of An Experimentally Darkened Lake”. Ecosphere 6 (3): art33. doi:10.1890/ES14-00241.1.
Wilkinson, Grace M., Jonathan J. Cole, and Michael L. Pace. 2015. “Deuterium As A Food Source Tracer: Sensitivity To Environmental Water, Lipid Content, And Hydrogen Exchange”. Limnology And Oceanography: Methods 13 (5): 213 - 223. doi:10.1002/lom3.10019.
Hamilton, D., Cayelan C. Carey, L. Arvola, P. Arzberger, C.A. Brewer, Jonathan J. Cole, E. Gaiser, et al. 2015. “A Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network (Gleon) For Synthesising High–Frequency Sensor Data For Validation Of Deterministic Ecological Models”. Inland Waters 5 (1): 49 - 56. doi:10.5268/IW-5.1.566.
Hanson, Paul C., Michael L. Pace, Stephen R. Carpenter, Jonathan J. Cole, and Emily H. Stanley. 2015. “Integrating Landscape Carbon Cycling: Research Needs For Resolving Organic Carbon Budgets Of Lakes”. Ecosystems 18 (3): 363 - 375. doi:10.1007/s10021-014-9826-9.
Wilkinson, Grace M., Jonathan J. Cole, Michael L. Pace, Robert A. Johnson, and Maxwell J. Kleinhans. 2015. “Physical And Biological Contributions To Metalimnetic Oxygen Maxima In Lakes”. Limnology And Oceanography 60 (1): 242 - 251. doi:10.1002/lno.v60.110.1002/lno.10022.
Carpenter, Stephen R., Jonathan J. Cole, Michael L. Pace, and Grace M. Wilkinson. 2015. “Response Of Plankton To Nutrients, Planktivory And Terrestrial Organic Matter: A Model Analysis Of Whole-Lake Experiments”. Ecology Letters 19 (3): 230 - 239. doi:10.1111/ele.2016.19.issue-310.1111/ele.12558.
Pace, Michael L., Stephen R. Carpenter, and Jonathan J. Cole. 2015. “With And Without Warning: Managing Ecosystems In A Changing World”. Frontiers In Ecology And The Environment 13 (9): 460 - 467. doi:10.1890/150003.
Wilkinson, Grace M., Stephen R. Carpenter, Jonathan J. Cole, and Michael L. Pace. 2014. “Use Of Deep Autochthonous Resources By Zooplankton: Results Of A Metalimnetic Addition Of 13C To A Small Lake”. Limnology And Oceanography 59 (3): 986 - 996. doi:10.4319/lo.2014.59.3.0986.
Yang, Carol, Grace M. Wilkinson, Jonathan J. Cole, Stephen A. Macko, and Michael L. Pace. 2014. “Assigning Hydrogen, Carbon, And Nitrogen Isotope Values For Phytoplankton And Terrestrial Detritus In Aquatic Food Web Studies”. Inland Waters 4 (2): 233 - 242. doi:10.5268/IW10.5268/IW-4.2.700.
Mendonça, Raquel, Sarian Kosten, Sebastian Sobek, Jonathan J. Cole, Alex C. Bastos, Ana Luiza Albuquerque, Simone J. Cardoso, and Fábio Roland. 2014. “Carbon Sequestration In A Large Hydroelectric Reservoir: An Integrative Seismic Approach”. Ecosystems 17 (3): 430 - 441. doi:10.1007/s10021-013-9735-3.
Strayer, David L., Jonathan J. Cole, Stuart E. G. Findlay, David T. Fischer, Jessica A. Gephart, Heather M. Malcom, Michael L. Pace, and Emma J. Rosi-Marshall. 2014. “Decadal-Scale Change In A Large-River Ecosystem”. Bioscience 64 (6): 496 - 510. doi:10.1093/biosci/biu061.
Hondula, K. L., Michael L. Pace, Jonathan J. Cole, and Ryan D. Batt. 2014. “Hydrogen Isotope Discrimination In Aquatic Primary Producers: Implications For Aquatic Food Web Studies”. Aquatic Sciences 76 (2): 217 - 229. doi:10.1007/s00027-013-0331-6.
Batt, Ryan D., William A. Brock, Stephen R. Carpenter, Jonathan J. Cole, Michael L. Pace, and David A. Seekell. 2013. “Asymmetric Response Of Early Warning Indicators Of Phytoplankton Transition To And From Cycles”. Theoretical Ecology 6 (3): 285 - 293. doi:10.1007/s12080-013-0190-8.
Batt, Ryan D., Stephen R. Carpenter, Jonathan J. Cole, Michael L. Pace, and Robert A. Johnson. 2013. “Changes In Ecosystem Resilience Detected In Automated Measures Of Ecosystem Metabolism During A Whole-Lake Manipulation”. Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences 110 (43): 17398 - 17403. doi:10.1073/pnas.1316721110.