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ECN contributes to network of lake sensors

A network of high-frequency sensors is helping to protect the future of freshwater lakes. Staff from ECN helped to develop the way the data are managed and stored.
ECN contributes to network of lake sensors

An Automatic Water Quality Monitoring Station

Lakes are vitally important to people, for example by supplying freshwater and energy, helping in flood control and as places of natural beauty in which we enjoy a range of recreational activities. Lakes also provide a habitat for a diversity of freshwater species. However, they are vulnerable to pollution from raw sewage, fertilizer run-off and atmospheric deposition, and are also impacted by invasive, non-native species, water abstraction and climate change.

Lake conditions can change rapidly. For instance, the generation time of aquatic microbial population is in the order of days or less. Lakes are also influenced by short-term weather events such as storms, floods or periods of hot weather. High frequency data are therefore needed to understand how these different environmental pressures affect lakes and to forecast future responses.

The UK Lake Ecological Observatory Network (UKLEON) is a network of automatic water quality monitoring stations (AWQMS) across 11 lakes in the UK. Some (Loch Leven, Loch Lomond, Windermere, Esthwaite Water and Lough Erne) are included in the ECN network. Each AWQMS is equipped with a meteorological station to record local weather. Underwater, there are instruments to measure temperature at a range of depths, conductivity, pH, carbon dioxide, underwater light and dissolved oxygen. The concentrations of the biological pigments chlorophyll a (the green pigment in all photosynthetic algae and plants) and phycocyanin (a blue pigment specific to cyanobacteria or blue-green algae) are also measured. Bio-fouling of the sensors is reduced via automatic wipers.

The network of sensors generates over 43 million data points annually. These are collected via telemetry and loaded into a database that was developed by staff from CEH Lancaster and the UK Astronomy Technology Centre in Edinburgh. The team have also developed a data viewer - available on our website - where real time data can be viewed.

UKLEON is a collaborative project run by staff from CEH’s Lake Ecosystems Group and involving a number of other universities and organisations. It is contributing to several other projects, including the NERC-funded GloboLakes project, that is investigating the state of lakes and their response to climatic and other environmental drivers of change at a global scale, NETLAKE that is building a network of AWQMS around Europe and the Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network (GLEON) that is building a global network of lake AWQMS.

[Text adapted from a longer article by Stephen Maberly and Robin Higgons]

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