Collaborative science to address global questions in lake research

By Dr Marieke Frassl and Man Xiao

Lakes are valuable ecosystems. Together with reservoirs they supply humans with resources like drinking water and nutrition through fishing. Lakes and reservoirs are used for generation of hydropower, flood protection and as recreational sites.

In the beginning of December we (a group of Chinese, New Zealand and German scientists) fled from the increasing heat of Brisbane City to attend the “GLEON19 All Hands’ Meeting” in winterly New York.

The 19th annual meeting of the Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network (GLEON) took place at the beautiful Lake Mohonk, about 150 km north of New York City.

GLEON is a global network of scientists that evolved around instrumented buoy systems on lakes with the aim to share and collaboratively interprete high-resolution sensor data. Nowadays, GLEON has broadened and also works on model development, long-term data sets and global field campaigns. The main goal, however, remains the same “to understand, predict and communicate the role and response of lakes in a changing global environment” (from GLEON’s mission statement,

Photo from

At the All Hands’ Meeting in December last year, about 250 scientists and lake managers from all over the world were getting together to exchange ideas, learn from each other and work on current as well as develop new joint projects.

The GLEON meetings are not like any other conference. Active involvement into the program and the network is desired and fostered.

Normally, the first day of the meeting serves to get to know each other and to attend one of various workshops. At GLEON19, we could choose between the following workshops: Communicating science to different types of audiences; Graphing techniques in R; Machine Learning; Carbon/Natural Organic Matter (NOM) Challenge: Disinfection By-Product Concerns for Drinking Water.

During the meeting, there is plenty of time to meet in GLEON’s working groups and discuss and plan projects that take advantage of the global network. This can result in global field campaigns, lab experiments or model applications.

In the modelling group, we have just finished a multi-lake comparison, where we applied one hydrodynamic model (the “General Lake Model – GLM”) to 30 different lakes worldwide. This helped to thoroughly test the model, develop it further and learn about the range of its applicability. GLM is now used in many research projects and in student’s education, but it is also used to support management, e.g. the New York City’s drinking water reservoirs.
We are now taking the next and even more challenging step, to apply a biogeochemical model to a variety of lakes and analyse the generality of that model in predicting changes in water quality.

GLEON’s working groups are dynamic and open to change. This year the following groups were meeting:

  • Citizen Science
  • Reservoir and Lake Management
  • The Theory Working Group (focusing on phyto- and zooplankton)
  • Modelling Working Group
  • Technology Working Group
  • Physics-Climate Working Group
  • Lake Metabolism Working Group
  • Climate Sentinels Working Group

Throughout the meeting, there is time for “ad hoc” groups to form. They discuss project ideas, which do not fit into a working group or that arose during the meeting. GLEON19 had plenty groups, e.g. a pond group, a winter limnology group and a junior aquatic ecosystem modellers group.

The GLEON community is very supportive of PhD students. They have their own organisation within GLEON (GSA, the GLEON Student Association) and they get the chance to present and discuss their work in two poster sessions.

We were surprised to see that Australia is not well represented among the GLEON member sites with only Lake Alexandrina. We think that we do have lots of reservoirs that could be included in the GLEON research agenda. (Look at New Zealand!)

That is why we invited the GLEON community to come over to Australia next year: GLEON’s next All Hands’ meeting will be held at Rottnest Island from the 3rd – 7th of December 2019 (

(Photo credit: Midge Eliassen, taken from

At Lake Mohonk, GLEON was already unknowingly preparing for next year:

Can you see the shape of Australia?

We hope to see many Australian faces at the next GLEON meeting, because we believe that the network opens up a great opportunity to benefit from an interdisciplinary group of scientists and water managers. Due to the global context of GLEON projects, the network might change the perspective on how you are looking at “your” lake or reservoir and it lets you quickly learn more about your own local system. The gained knowledge can feedback into research and management to keep water quality at a good state or even improve it.

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