Lake Annie finds its rhythm

Professor turns temperatures into musical score

Evelyn Gaiser can hear music in the cold and warmth from one of Florida’s oldest and deepest lakes.

More than an aquatic ecologist, Gaiser is also a classically trained vocalist. She knows as much about music as she does about the diatoms under her microscope. For her, the artist and the scientist live in sync. She is one to appreciate both the data and aesthetics in the world around her. So it makes sense, that when she compiled 20 years of temperature data collected at Florida’s Lake Annie, she saw a musical pattern. More specifically, the data streams pouring in from sensors deployed in the lake looked like music notes to her.

“It’s really interesting. You can hear how a lake sounds if they have a short winter, or a long summer or if a hurricane hits,” said Gaiser, executive director of the School of Environment, Arts and Society and professor in the Department of Biological Sciences.

Evelyn Gaiser conducts repairs on a temperature sensor which produced the data for her musical score.

Evelyn Gaiser conducts repairs on a temperature sensor deployed in Lake Annie which produced the data for her musical score.

Taking the two decades of Lake Annie data, along with comparable data from lakes in Wisconsin, New Zealand and the United Kingdom made possible by the Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network, she converted the temperatures into a musical scale.

“The Lake Annie song includes two years of data from a 2010 cold snap where the bottom of the lake got as cold as it has ever been in 35 years, making it sound like a groan,” Gaiser said.

With her sheet music in hand, Gaiser played the notes on her keyboard. Colder water temperatures from the bottom of the lake, and the bottom of the music chords, change slowly in lakes, producing whale-like and mysterious sounds. Warmer temperatures at the top of the lake, and the top of the music chords, change faster with changes in weather, producing faster and more melodic sounds.

“I grew up in a musical family, so it just came to me,” Gaiser said. “I played the data on the piano as I was writing it and thought it was interesting to hear the changes – I could hear it in my head as I was writing it but it was fun to hear it played out, particularly in contrast to the other lakes.”

While Gaiser conducts her research primarily in the Florida Everglades with the Florida Coastal Everglades Long Term Ecological Research Program, the ecologist often travels north to the Archbold Biological Station to escape South Florida’s bustling city life and indulge in the serene Lake Annie. According to Gaiser, what is learned about the lake’s reaction to climate change is pertinent to the ways science understands those same changes in the Everglades.

To listen to Gaiser’s Lake Annie song, click below.


JoAnn Adkins contributed to this story.