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How exactly does dissolved oxygen affect water quality?

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Thus, the sun-warmed water will remain at the surface of the water body (forming the epilimnion), while the more dense, cooler water sinks to the bottom (hypolimnion). The layer of rapid temperature change separating the two layers is called the thermocline. At the beginning of the summer, the hypolimnion of the lake will contain more dissolved oxygen because colder water holds more oxygen than warmer water. However, as time progresses, an increased number of dead organisms from the epilimnion sink to the bottom and are broken down by microorganisms. Continued microbial decomposition eventually results in an oxygen-deficient hypolimnion. If the lake has high concentrations of nutrients, this process may be accelerated. When the growth rate of microorganisms is not limited by a specific nutrient, such as phosphorus, the dissolved oxygen in the lake could be depleted before the summer's end.

Microbes play a key role in the loss of oxygen from surface waters. Microbes use oxygen as energy to break down long-chained organic molecules into simpler, more stable end products such as carbon dioxide, water, phosphate and nitrate. As microbes break down the organic molecules, oxygen is removed from the system and must be replaced by exchange at the air-water interface. Each step above results in consumption of dissolved oxygen. If high levels of organic matter are present in a water, microbes may use all available oxygen. This does not mean, however, that the removal of microbes from the ecosystem would solve this problem. Although microbes are responsible for decreasing levels of dissolved oxygen, they play a very important role in the aquatic ecosystem. If dead matter is not broken down it will "pile up," much as leaves would if they were not broken down each year.

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