Wilhelm Rodhe (1914-1998)

Wilhelm Rodhe (1914-1998)

Past President of SIL

Professor Wilhelm Rodhe, Uppsala, died 26 August 1998 at the age of 84 years. He studied limnology with Professor Einar Naumann at Aneboda in the 1930s but took all his academic degrees at Uppsala University where he was awarded his Ph.D. in 1948. Wilhelm Rodhe was an Associate Professor of Limnology at Uppsala University from 1948 until 1959 when he was promoted to full professor of Limnology. From 1952 until his retirement in 1980 he was also Director of the Erken laboratory. Thanks to Wilhelm Rodhe’s dedication and strong will, the academic discipline of limnology was established at Uppsala University in 1952.

From 1948–1953 Wilhelm Rodhe was the SIL General Secretary and President from 1968–1974. For those privileged to work with him in SIL, he was found to be a firm, authoritative leader but with the finest of intentions for maximizing international understanding and scientific exchanges during this difficult period of the Cold War.

In 1968 he was called to serve as a supervisor for the establishment of a limnological laboratory at Lake Kinneret, and he spent a one-year sabbatical in Israel.

Although Wilhelm Rodhe’s scientific production was not large by today’s standards of publication, several of his publications were most perceptive and have a very clear bearing on problems that later have become ‘hot issues’ in limnology. In his 1942 work with Åberg, ‘Über die Mileufaktoren in einigen südschwedischen seen’, he discussed several aspects of the heterotrophic character of humic lakes and the role of humic substances in lake metabolism. He came to the conclusion that they had a continuous evasion of CO2 to the atmosphere, CO2 that was produced by oxidative decomposition of dissolved organic matter, and that lakes with high calcium carbonate as well had a net evasion of CO2 due to the input of bicarbonate and carbon dioxide with surface and groundwater inflow. The role of bacteria in oxidative decomposition and their further role in aquatic food chains was not recognized at that time. Wilhelm Rodhe mentioned the importance of photochemical reactions for the cleavage of high molecular, recalcitrant organic material and also hypothesised that iron was involved as a catalyst in this process. These questions have recently come into new focus because of the role of CO2 as a greenhouse gas and because of increasing UV radiation and its ecological effects.

Wilhelm Rodhe’s Ph.D. thesis on ‘Environmental requirements of fresh-water plankton algae’ is a classical work on the ecophysiology of natural phytoplankton. In other early publications he treated the ionic composition of fresh waters and showed that many lakes have a composition similar to the average of world rivers and concluded that ubiquitous geochemical processes were responsible.

Wilhelm Rodhe was a pioneer in using the 14C technique for primary production measurements in fresh waters and in modelling the photosynthesis vs. light relationship in lakes. In his 1955 paper, ‘Can plankton production proceed during winter darkness in subarctic lakes?’, and a later publication with Hobbie and Wright ’Phototrophy and heterotrophy in high mountain lakes’, he touched upon the problem of how heterotrophic and mixotrophic flagellates can survive under the hostile conditions of subarctic winters. His conclusion was that it is unlikely that flagellates or other plankton algae could take up dissolved organic carbon at the very low concentrations found in these lakes. The role of planktonic bacteria in aquatic food webs was not fully understood at that time and only with the introduction of new microscopic and tracer techniques was it later possible to further develop aquatic microbial ecology and to unwind the mysteries of the “microbial loop.”

Wilhelm Rodhe was a strong and inspiring leader with high demands on his students and staff. Those of us that had the priviledge to work with him for many years during the days of his prime had an opportunity to attend his weekly seminars in his office. This led to discussions on actual scientific problems, important applications of limnology in society, and the history and development of limnology. After his retirement, Wilhelm was unable to participate in the scientific community due to illness. We remember with gratitude a great man.


Rodhe, W. 1941. Zur Verbesserung der quantitativen Plankton-methodik nebst Profilen des Crustaceenplanktons aus drei småländischen Seen. Zool. Bidr. Upps. 20:456–477.

Åberg, B. & Rodhe, W. 1942. Über die Miljeufaktoren in einigen süd-schwedischen Seen. Symb. Bot. Upsal. 5(3): 1–256.

Rodhe, W. 1948. Environmental requirements of fresh-water plankton algae. Experimental studies in the ecology of phytoplankton. Sym. Bot. Upsal. 10(1):1–149.

Rodhe, W. 1949. The ionic composition of lake waters. Verh. Int. Verein. Theor. Angew. Limnol. 10:377–386.

Rodhe, W. 1951. Minor constituents in lake waters. Verh. Int. Verein. Theor. Angew. Limnol. 11:317–323.

Rodhe, W. 1955. Can plankton production proceed during winter darkness in subarctic lakes? Verh. Int. Verein. Theor. Angew. Limnol. 12:117–122.

Rodhe, W. 1958. Primärproduktion und Seetypen. Verh. Int. Verein. Theor. Angew. Limnol. 13:121–141.

Rodhe, W. 1958. The primary production in lakes: some results and restrictions of the 14C method. Rapp. P. –v. Réun. Cons. Perm. Int. Explor. Mer. 144:122-128.

Rodhe, W., Vollenweider, R.A. & Nauwerck, A. 1958. The primary production and standing crop of phytoplankton. Perspect. Marine. Biol. 299–322. Ed. Buzzati-Traverso. Univ. California.

Rodhe, W. 1962. Sulla produzione di fitoplancton in laghi transparenti di alta montagna. Memorie Ist. Ital. Idrobiol. 15:21–28.

Rodhe, W. 1964. Effects of impoundment on water chemistry and plankton in Lake Ransaren (Swedish Lappland). Verh. Int. Verein . theror. Angew. Limnol. 15:437–443.

Rodhe, W. 1965. Standard correlation between pelagic photosynthesis and light. Memorie. Ist. Ital. Idrobiol. 18 Suppl.: 365–381.

Rodhe, W., Hobbie, J.E. & Wright, R.T. 1966. Phototrophy and heterotrophy in high mountain lakes. Verh. Int. Verein. Limnol. 16:302–381.

Berman, T. & Rodhe, W. 1971. Distribution and migration of Peridinium in Lake Kinneret. Mitt. Internat. Verein. Limnol. 19:266–276.

Rodhe, W. 1972. Evaluation of primary production parameters in Lake Kinneret (Israel). Verh. Internat. Verein. Limnol. 18:93–104.

Rodhe, W. 1974. The International Association of Limnology. Creation and functions. Mitt. Internat. Verein. Limnol. 20:44–70.

Lindström. K. & Rodhe, W. 1978. Selenium as a micronutrient for the dinoflagellate Peridinium cinctum f. westii. Mitt. Internat. Verein. Limnol. 21:168–173.