Eric A. Schiff 0000-0002-4104-7038

Document Type





limnology, whiting events, picoplankton



Official Citation

"How Green Lakes State Park Got Its Name: The optics and appearance of Fayetteville Green Lakes", Eric A. Schiff (2022)


Environmental Education | Other Earth Sciences | Physics


The extraordinary and variable appearance of the Fayetteville Green Lakes in the spring, summer, and fall has been the subject of journalistic and scientific attention for more than 150 years. This article addresses the subject in two sections for differing readerships. The first section is a description of the essential science for a general readership. The second section is an abstract of the science for technically knowledgeable readers. The layout of the article is designed for a folded paper flier suitable for distribution to visitors to the lakes.

The article describes the three key properties of the lakes’ waters that are responsible for the unusual optics. The first is the high concentration of dissolved calcium carbonate due to the limestone bed of the lakes. The second is the flourishing of a strain of cyanobacteria picoplankton in the lakes from the spring to the fall. The picoplankton absorb the red and blue components of sunlight to drive photosynthesis within the cells. The third is the precipitation of calcite nanocrystals in the water by the picoplankton, which causes seasonal “whiting” events. Rayleigh scattering by calcite aggregates then leads to the brilliant green and the opacity of the lakes when illuminated directly by sunlight.



Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.