Aerial view of Sheenjek River in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Photo Credit: A. Bonogofsky, USFWS

Charted Waters: Center for Limnology Research Spans the Globe

by Adam Hinterthuer

Emily standing in wooded area with a big smile on her face.
Emily Stanley

In August of this year, a study mapping global emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, was published in the prestigious journal, Nature. CFL professor Emily Stanley was a co-author of that study, which offered fresh insights into the global rates, patterns, and drivers of methane emissions from the world’s running waters.

The study found that streams and rivers produce a lot of methane and play a major role in climate change dynamics. It also revealed some surprising results about how – and where – methane is produced. For example, contrary to scientific expectations, streams and rivers of the Arctic tundra produced comparable amounts of methane as warmer tropical waterways in the Amazon rainforest. The researchers also found that, in many parts of the world, freshwater methane emissions are primarily controlled by human activity in and around both urban and rural waterways.

The study highlighted areas to focus our efforts as the world scrambles to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For example, Stanley says, for streams and rivers, at least, “from a climate change perspective, we need to worry more about systems where humans are creating the circumstances that produce methane” rather than areas where it’s naturally occurring.

It was just another example of the CFL’s global reach. But Stanley isn’t the only researcher at Hasler Lab or Trout Lake Station contributing to the world’s understanding of our freshwater resources. CFL faculty and students are working in waters across the globe. Here’s a look at some of those projects.

Jake Vander Zanden stands on deck research vessel
ake Vander Zanden conducts research on alpine lakes from the LeXPLORE research platform in Lake Geneva.

SWITZERLAND: Jake Vander Zanden spent the past academic year on sabbatical at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland. Some of his work was carried out from atop the LeXPLORE research platform, a floating raft of sensors, scientific equipment and on-the-water lab space that is permanently anchored in Lake Geneva (Switzerland/France). Vander Zanden is using compound specific stable isotopes to understand the lower trophic levels of Lake Geneva’s food web, and working with Marie-Elodie Perga and her LAKES group in their mission to document and understand how peri-alpine and alpine lakes are changing in our warming world.

Pictured (from left to right): Maggie Shaw, Ashley Trudeau, Ganzorig Batsaikhan, Dr. Mendsaikhan, and Joe Mrnak prepare for a day of research on Lake Hovsgol.
Pictured (from left to right): Maggie Shaw, Ashley Trudeau, Ganzorig Batsaikhan, Dr. Mendsaikhan, and Joe Mrnak prepare for a day of research on Lake Hovsgol. Photo: Anne Readel

MONGOLIA: Northern Mongolia is one of the fastest warming regions on earth. Olaf Jensen’s lab studies the impacts of climate warming and other anthropogenic (human induced) change on lakes and rivers in this region, with a focus on how warming impacts the animals that call these waters home and the health of Mongolia’s unique inland fisheries. On their most recent visit, Jensen, along with staff and students from the CFL and a few other UW affiliates, continued a long-term study of fish populations in the 18th largest lake in the world, Lake Hovsgol.

Gretchen Gerrish exploring reefs of Bonaire while Scuba diving.
Gretchen Gerrish exploring reefs of Bonaire. Photo credit: Trevor Rivers

BONAIRE and BELIZE: While Trout Lake Station director Gretchen Gerrish spends most of her time on northern Wisconsin’s beautiful lakes these days, she hasn’t completely lost her connection to her earlier work in the warmer, saltier waters of the Caribbean. Gerrish, an evolutionary ecologist, conducts research on bioluminescence in tiny marine crustaceans called ostracods. Gerrish works on a group of ostracods commonly called “sea fireflies” and studies how they use the light they produce in both defense and courtship displays and how those behaviors change as species evolve. Last year, she helped discover five new species – two from the waters off of the Caribbean island of Bonaire and three in Florida as part of the UW-Madison’s new UW Marine Biology in the Florida Keys course she taught with Olaf Jensen and Robert Johnson.

Charlie wearing winter gear and helmet while sitting inside airplane
Charlie Dougherty gets an airlift to an Antarctic research site. Photo: Peter Doran

ANTARCTICA: Hilary Dugan is one of the lead researchers on the the McMurdo Long Term Ecological Research (MCM LTER) project in Antarctica. The MCM LTER brings in researchers from all over the world to study the unique ecosystems of Antarctica’s McMurdo Dry Valleys. They have been collecting data since 1993 to test theories on ecosystem structure and function, focusing on meteorology, soils, streams, lakes, glaciers, and permafrost. This year Dugan and grad student Charlie Dougherty will be in Antarctica collecting data on the Dry Valley lakes.