Global Observatory of Lake Responses to Environmental Change (GloboLakes)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Dundee
Department Name: Geography and Environmental Science


There are around 304 million lakes globally.These provide essential resources for human survival and are an important component of global biogeochemical cycles. Lakes are also fragile systems that are sensitive to multiple pressures including nutrient enrichment, climate change and hydrological modification, making themimportant'sentinels' of environmental perturbation. However, traditional monitoring has only produced data from a tiny fraction of the global population of lakes and disentangling the causes of change requires consistently-produced data from a large number of lakes, along with measurements of possible causes of change. Satellite observations (remote sensing) and the establishment of a global lake observatory would produce a step-change in our ability to detect and attribute the causes of changes in lakes world-wide. This is now possible for three reasons: (1) the improved wavebands, spatial resolution and frequency of data collection fromsatellitesensorsisnow sufficient to monitor inland waters; (2) formulae to correct for atmospheric properties and to convert the detected reflected light to useful lake properties have been developed; and (3) computing power has increased to the point that allows near realtime and archived information from satellites to be processed. GloboLakes will analyse 20 years of data from more than 1000 large lakes across the globe to determine 'what controls the differential sensitivity of lakes to environmental perturbation'. This is an ambitious project that is only possible by bringing together a consortium of scientists with complementary skills. These include expertise in remote sensing of freshwaters and processing large volumes of satellite images, collation and analysis of large-scale environmental data, environmental statistics and the assessment of data uncertainty, freshwater ecology and mechanisms of environmental change and the ability to produce lake models to forecast future lake conditions. The eight objectives of GloboLakes are to:

(i) develop remote sensing algorithms to estimate lake biogeochemical and physical parameters;
(ii) make these algorithms operational and process satellite data;
(iii) compile integrated spatio-temporal information on climatic and catchment data for >1000 lakes;
(iv) integrate data and assess uncertainty in data sources;
(v) detect spatial and temporal patterns in lake water quality;
(vi) attribute the causes of lake response to environmental conditions;
(vii) forecast lake sensitivity to environmental change;
(viii) apply data to lake management and the monitoring of freshwater resources.

The project will focus on the retrieval of surface water temperature as this has a fundamental effect on lake ecology, the concentration of coloured dissolved organic matter and suspended solids that derive largely from the catchment, the abundance of phytoplankton measured as the concentration of the pigment, chlorophyll a, and the abundance of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) that can potentially be toxic. Knowledge of the conditions of lakes and their sensitivity to change is also extremely valuable for the management of lakes and reservoirs and GloboLakes will provide information and products specifically for environmental managers. A satellite due to be launched during the course of the project,called Sentinel 2,will provide even greater spatial resolution allowing data to be collected and exploited from even smaller lakes. This will be investigated by GloboLakesand incorporated into the framework of a global lake observatory.

Planned Impact

In the UK, the main direct beneficiaries of the project would be the UK environment agencies (EA, SEPA, NIEA) and water utilities who all have a statutory requirement to ensure safe surface waters for public recreation and water supply for drinking and irrigation. The UK environment agencies also have monitoring requirements for the Water Framework Directive (WFD), which include monitoring the frequency and severity of algal blooms. The operational platform to be developed could lead to significant economic benefits for these organisations as it would provide more frequent and much greater geographic coverage of monitoring at a lower cost. The main UK beneficiaries (all UK environment agencies and Scottish Water) have all been involved with the project team developing the research needs through a previous NERC research grant (NE/E009328) and through co-membership of the UK Technical Advisory Group for the Water Framework Directive. They have all indicated full engagement and support (time, logistics and data) for the proposed research and will form the core of the Project Advisory Board.

More indirectly, the project is of benefit to other organisations and individuals who manage public access to surface waters as it would lead to more rapid dissemination of water quality results and more accurate warnings of algal blooms and associated health risks to the public and livestock. This includes relevant National Park authorities (English Lake District, Loch Lomond & Trossachs, the Broads Authority) and health authorities.

Scientific benefits are described elsewhere under "Academic beneficiaries", but a key to wider dissemination is the commitment from international scientists within the remote sensing, water quality and limnology communities. This commitment is illustrated by the letters of support and include scientists across Europe, Africa, China, Australia and the USA.

Wider dissemination of the project and its finding will be achieved through a dedicated project website which will provide both non-technical information aimed at the general public as well as information for a scientific audience. More targetted dissemination will be supported by the Communications and Media Department at University of Stirling, working alongside those of the consortium partners. We anticipate regular publications in popular and peer-reviewed science press throughout the lifetime of the project. More specifically, we will target communication of the project results through regular project newsletters sent to key users with responsibilities or interests in monitoring the state of the environment (UK conservation agencies, relevant National Park authorities (English Lake District, Loch Lomond & Trossachs, the Broads Authority), the European Environment Agency and the World Wildlife Fund for Nature.

There are a number of additional end-users who will benefit from hearing the final outcomes of this project, including the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, Scottish Government, Department for International Development, Department of Health - Global Health Programme, and international organisations including the WHO, UNESCO and a number of international aid charities. As the project progresses, with operational tools and results, we plan additional focused direct engagement with these organizations and will invite them to the final end-user workshop. Towards the end of the project, we will highlight the value of the platform and the science underpinning it at a global stage, through attendance in Stockholm at World Water Week. Similarly, as the tool becomes operational with validated results, we will publish an annual summary each year on World Water Day of the water status of 1000 global lakes.
Description See submission by GloboLakes PI at University of Stirling
Exploitation Route See submission by GloboLakes PI at University of Stirling.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Agriculture, Food and Drink,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Environment,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Government, Democracy and Justice

Description See submission by GloboLakes PI at University of Stirling
Description SAGES Postdoctoral and Early Career Researcher Exchanges
Amount £2,958 (GBP)
Organisation Scottish Alliance for Geoscience, Environment and Society (SAGES) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2014 
End 08/2014
Title Lake Catchment Database 
Description A database of publicly available climate and land cover datasets, published information and derived morphometric data for 363 lakes, from which methods for deriving lake typology are beng tested, for the pupose of optimising the forthcoming lake typology method and database exercise for all 1000 lakes selected as part of the Globolakes project. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Several conference presentations have been made which make use of the database, informing academic peers our work in building it and methods we are developing to derive meaningful lake typology from it. On several occasions this has resulted in direct input of data and information from those who have been present. 
Title Lake Catchment Outlines 
Description Using a GIS-based model developed to delineate the boundaries of lake catchments, we have derived lake catchment boundaries for all 998 lakes included in the GloboLakes project. These boundaries are based upon either Shuttle Radar Topography Missions (SRTM) Digital Elevation Model (DEM) data or from the ASTER satellite-derived DEM for more northerly lake catchments where SRTM data are unavailable. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact From the catchment boundaries we have been able to derive a further database of catchment properties, including historical climate and non-climate drivers of lake change. 
Title Lake catchment database version 2 
Description A database of historical climate and non-climate drivers of lake change based upon lake catchments for all 998 lakes included in the GloboLakes project. For each lake we have included a 40 year time series of catchment and lake climate change, as well as changes in catchment land cover, fertilizer application, GDP, run-off and other dynamic variables, as well as static variables such as lake size, depth, ecoregion and other descriptors (modelled where these data are not published or available). 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact These data are now being used in work package 6 to help explain spatial and temporal patterns of lake change. The first results from this work will result in several conference papers being delivered throughout 2016. 
Description SECURE 
Organisation University of Glasgow
Department School of Mathematics and Statistics
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Our research team has joined the EPSRC-funded SECURE network (Statistics of Environmental Change, Resources & Ecosystems), with PI Cutler serving on the SECURE Project Feasibility Committee. This network has led to several collaborations with other groups in the SECURE network and one funding application (unsuccessful). The involvement of our research team with SECURE is a direct result of working together on the GloboLakes project.
Collaborator Contribution Our partners have provided input and advice on data processing on projects outwith the GloboLakes project, collaborating specifically on analysis of tropical forest sensitivity to disturbance funded by the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland. Further funding applications are likely to follow.
Impact None as yet, but further funding applications will follow, brining together researchers from environmental science and mathematics and statistics.
Start Year 2015
Description Lakes as sentinels and integrators of environmnetal change: the Globolakes project 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Invited research seminar at the University of Nottingham, 27th February 2013

Invited seminar to staff, postgraduate and undergraduate students at the University of Nottingham. Presentation of the NERC Globolakes project, to promote the project to a wider audience and encourage partners and potential contributors from limnologist
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013