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Acidification of mountain lakes: paleolimnology and ecology, remote mountain lakes as indicators of air pollution and climate change

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Lakes as environmental sensors

European researchers have discovered that remote mountain lakes can be monitored so as to observe the environmental changes that have occurred in the past and how these changes will affect the future. In fact, remote lakes exhibit an intense sensitivity towards pollution and climatic changes and it is this characteristic that makes them acute environmental sensors and predictors.

Climate Change and Environment

Based in London and Oslo, the AL:PE (Acidification of mountain Lakes: Palaeolimnology and Ecology) project researchers use palaeological, chemical, and biological techniques to observe and assess the response of European mountain lakes to air pollution and climate change. Specifically, the biological indicators that are observed within the scope of the AL:PE project are diatoms, invertebrates, zoo-plankton, and fish. Furthermore, as remote mountain lakes have high quality sediment records, these sediments can be analysed to understand the projection, velocity, and biological effects of the environmental fluctuations that have occurred in that region. In essence, this multi-faceted methodology of utilising data from biological, chemical, and sedimentary record analyses allows the researchers to fully comprehend the causes, historical progress, and present degree of environmental pollution. It is crucial to highlight that, when taken as a whole, this information about the history of the lakes then proves useful as a reference point to make projections and predictions about future ecological conditions and problems. Also of significance is that fact that the ALPE project monitors lakes that lie in vastly different European regions, such as Norway, Scotland, Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Austria, Slovenia, Slovakia, Poland, and even Russia. Therefore, the conclusions that can be made using the ALPE research methodology paint a truly comprehensive profile of the environmental situation throughout Europe and beyond. This project also makes it a priority to use quality control systems that standardise methods utilised by all laboratories so as to guarantee that data and results are comparable and highly analytical. Thus far, the ALPE project has yielded interesting results. Some conclusions include the fact that nitrate levels augment towards the centre of Europe and contribute increasingly to lake acidification, and the observation that lakes that are contaminated by carbonaceous particles, persistent organic compounds, and trace metals exhibit the same response as lakes that are affected by acid deposition. In fact, the researchers concluded that even the remotest of lakes suffered recent contamination. Also, the ALPE project approximated the future pH of lake water based on the lakes' history, as well as assessing the interaction between environmental conditions and fish populations. High mercury levels have been detected in fish and the ALPE researchers suggest this be an area for future investigation. Most importantly, the AL:PE project has established the foundation for future environmental control, as it reveals how biological and chemical data from lakes can be used to construct the most appropriate action-plan for the proper monitoring and management of the environment.

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Climate Change and Environment

2 April 2014