Science - October 7, 2004

Ecologists to drill in a hundred lakes

Next month sees the start of a large-scale, exciting operation: samples will be taken from a hundred lakes in South America. Wageningen ecologists led by Professor Marten Scheffer will take part in this international project, the aim of which is to gain understanding of how the lakes react to climate change.

‘It’s a spectacular undertaking. It combines three WOTRO (the tropical department of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research) projects we are involved in. We’ll be examining lakes along a gradient from tropical Brazil to the cold south of Argentina,’ says Scheffer who is chair of the Aquatic Ecology and Water Quality Management group.

There are signs that many lakes on earth, especially the more shallow ones, are very sensitive to changes in climate. An increase in temperatures can have an adverse effect on biodiversity and water quality. The lack of field data means the researchers in the South American Lake Gradient Analysis project (SALGA) are taking things seriously. They are not just going to study a couple of lakes, but a hundred of them, so nothing is left to chance. Scheffer: ‘It’s unique: we analyse the past of the lakes by examining the drill sample sediment cores. In this way we can reconstruct the effects of climate changes, like those caused by El Niño.’ Satellite image analysis provides information on meteorological conditions in the past.

The ecologists depart for the first research locations on 1 November, by air, boat and in four-wheel drives. PhD student Marian Kosten of the Aquatic Ecology and Water Quality Management group is ready to go, as are three post-doctorates from the same group, together with Dr Jan Clevers of the Laboratory for Geo-information science and remote sensing. They will be joining researchers from the University of Amsterdam and a number of universities in France, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. / HB