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Rick Battarbee - Palaeolimnology in the UK: Pioneering days

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A brief history of palaeolimnology in the UK from 1920s to 1980s. This was a plenary talk given at the International Paleolimnology Symposium, Glasgow, August 2012.

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Rick Battarbee - Palaeolimnology in the UK: Pioneering days

  1. 1. UK Palaeolimnology: the pioneering days Rick Battarbee University College London 12th International Paleolimnology Symposium Glasgow
  2. 2. The 12th International Paleolimnology Symposium 2006 - 1988- The 1st International Paleolimnology Symposium, Tihany 1967 When and how did palaeolimnology begin in the UK?
  3. 3. The Freshwater Biological Association (FBA) was founded in 1929. Wray Castle, closeto the shore of Lake Windermere, was its first home and W.H. Pearsall was one of the founding fathers. It moved to Ferry House in 1950 Wray Castle Ferry House William Harold Pearsall (1891-1964)
  4. 4. Windermere CatchmentPickering (2001)
  5. 5. In 1921 Pearsall proposed that the major lakes in the Lake District could be arranged in a series (the ”Pearsall Series”) from “primitive” to “evolved”.Pearsall WH (1921) Proc. R. Soc. London, 92, 259-284
  6. 6. Wastwater Crummock WaterWindermere Esthwaite Water
  7. 7. The first core in the UK was taken when Clifford Mortimer hammered a steel tube into the marginal sediments of Windermere in Low Wray Bay in 1937. It followed a hydrographic survey of the lake by the Admiralty using an echo sounder, probably the first such use in freshwater in the UKCH Mortimer 1911-2010
  8. 8. The echo sounder had “showed not only the depth of the water but also the depth of softmud deposits overlying the hard floor of the lake…” (P 34, FBA Annual Report 1938).Mortimer & Worthington described how they had subsequently used the echo sounderto make comparative surveys of Wastwater, Ennerdale, Derwent-water, Bassenthwaiteand Esthwaite lakes in the “primitive” to “evolved” series of Pearsall.Returning to the Pearsall hypothesis, they argued “one would expect to find muchmore deposit of mud in an evolved lake than a primitive one, and that is born outforcibly by the echo-sounding records” (p. 36) And then to prove that “the distance between the first and second echoes really represents the depth of mud, a boring apparatus was devised to extract cores of the deposits” (p 34). Mortimer & Worthington 1938 FBA Annual Report, pp 33-38
  9. 9. The core from Low Wray Bay was especially interesting as it penetrated thebasal sediments showing a clay-mud-clay sequence that we now refer to as theLate-glacial including the relatively warm period known in the UK as theWindermere Interstadial . “Cores of deposits from Windermere were described [last year] which were obtained by a simple steel tube borer fitted with a ramming weight. The friction involved in pushing such a tube several feet into the deposits cause compression of the core, which is a serious drawback in stratigraphical work. Accordingly Mr B.M.Jenkin, an experienced engineer and an old friend of the Association, has given much time and skill to solving the problem of obtaining cores from below a considerable depth of water, without distorting their contents in any way . He has constructed a deposit-sampler which is ideal for accurate stratigraphical work on lake deposits” (Mortimer, FBA Annual Report for 1939, p 57). Mortimer & Worthington 1938 FBA Annual Report, pp. 33-38
  10. 10. The design of the corer referred to was published in 1938 by Jenkin & Mortimer in Nature, and an improved version later in 1941, also in Nature, by Jenkin, Mortimer & Pennington. Winifred Pennington, Clifford Mortimer and assistants, Low Wray Bay 1940 (Courtesy of the FBA)
  11. 11. It was Winifred Pennington who took up the palaeolimnological challenge, inspired by thethe sediment cores being collected from Low Wray Bay. It became the central topic of her PhD thesis, combining diatom and pollen analysis (Pennington 1943, 1947) Pennington, W. 1943 New Phytologist, 42, 1-27
  12. 12. Windermere diatom diagram (65m depth) Winifred Pennington 1915-2007 • the first diatom diagram to be published in the UK • focus on the Late and Post-glacial lake evolution • argued that step changes were not consistent with Pearsall’s theory of continuous evolution • but fitted Hutchinson & Wollack’s idea of “trophic equilibrium” • noted that the Asterionella expansion at the top was an indication of nutrient enrichment from human settlement Pennington, W. 1943 New Phytologist, 42, 1-27
  13. 13. Jenkin then developed a surface mud sampler that became very popular, and stillcommercially available, although used more by limnologists than palaeolimnologists Mortimer, C.H. 1942 Journal of Ecology 30, 147-201
  14. 14. It allowed Mortimer to take cores for his classic studies of mud-water interface chemistry, in which he returned to the Pearsall theme of lake evolution“If an increase in productivity, not necessarily uniform or continuous,is an evolutionary tendency, and the lake is sufficiently shallow, apoint in time will be reached at which the mud surface becomesreduced. This will have the effect, noted in Esthwaite Water, ofaccelerating (a) oxygen depletion in the hypolimnion, and (b) therelease of ions from mud to water” Mortimer CH, 1941/2 Journal of Ecology
  15. 15. Winifred Pennington moved to Leicester University in 1945 to join her husband Tom Tutinand bring up a family of four children. Although she remained very active the work on lake development was picked up by others, Frank Round in the first instance. He carried out diatom analysis on Holocene sediments from two sites, Kentmere and Esthwaite Water.Kentmere Round FE 1957 New Phytologist 56, 98-126Esthwaite At both sites a mid-Holocene shift to more acid-tolerant taxa was observed. Round concluded “this contrasts sharply with the Windermere results and also with Pearsall’s (1921) Frank E Round suggestion that lake basins evolved 1927-2010 slowly and continuously during the Post-glacial period” Round FE 1961 New Phytologist 60, 43-59
  16. 16. John Mackereth joined the FBA in 1946 as a chemist but made several major contributions across the field of limnology and palaeolimnology. Most memorable was his pneumatic sediment corer (Mackereth 1958), designed to be lightweight in comparison to theKullenberg and Jenkin corers and to not rely on rods in comparison with the Livingstone corer FJH Mackereth 1921-1972Tragically he died very young at the age of 50 some years after an accident involving the corer
  17. 17. It was this corer, however, that he used to collect cores for his classic papers onsediment chemistry (Mackereth 1965, 1966) and on palaeomagnetism (Mackereth 1971). It was also used by Winifred Pennington, Liz Haworth, Frank Oldfield, Roy Thompson and others in following yearsThe objective of Mackereth’s study of the chemistry of lake sediments in the Lake Districtwas to follow up the ideas of long-term lake evolution and the relationship between lakes and their catchments previously put forward by Pearsall, Pennington, Round and others • He chose sites across the Pearsall Series from Ennerdale to Esthwaite • He focussed especially on C/N, Na and K, Fe and Mn, P and the halogens Mackereth, FJH 1966 Phil Trans R Soc 250, 165-213
  18. 18. His observations on Na and K were particularly relevant to the debate on lake evolution.He argued the concentration of Na and K should be directly proportional to the intensity of erosion in the catchment and that the decline in Na and K indicated a shift from erosion to leaching as soils and vegetation developed in the catchment causing a steady impoverishment of base cations in the soils and in the lakes “The observations presented do not therefore support a concept of lake evolution from relative poverty towards richness, but suggest rather that a phase of relative mineral richness occurred quite early in the post-glacial history of the lakes” p 183. Mackereth, FJH 1966 Phil Trans R Soc 250, 165-213 NB but see Engstrom & Wright 1984!
  19. 19. The development of the Mackereth corer allowed long cores to be taken in the smaller,more remote, upland tarns in the Lake District. Liz Haworth, studying for a Masters degree in the University of Wales (Bangor), carried out diatom analysis of a core from Blea Tarn, that also showed clear evidence of early to mid-Holocene acidification Haworth EY 1969 Journal of Ecology, 57, 429-439
  20. 20. The late 1960s marks the end of the first phase of the history of UK palaeolimnology.It was a period of exploration, of designing corers and developing chemical and biologicalanalytical methodsThe intellectual debate was dominated by a quest to understand how lakes developedover post-glacial timePearsall’s idea of gradual lake evolution, from less to more productive conditions, was testedand found inadequate. The palaeo-evidence suggested that lakes either underwent rapidchange before reaching a trophic equilibrium (Windermere) or became less productive and,in some cases, more acidic over time (Blea Tarn)The emphasis on recent palaeolimnology and the role of human activity in fundamentallyaltering lake ecosystems through nutrient pollution and acid deposition was yet to takeplace. It was contingent on the development of new surface sediment corers and new datingmethods (principally 210Pb) that was to occur in the 1970s involving not just WinifredTutin’s group in the FBA, but also the new group established by Frank Oldfield in Coleraine.But that’s a story for next time..... Frank Oldfield
  21. 21. With thanks to:Malcolm ElliottJohn LundHardy SchwammLiz HaworthJack TallingMike DicksonAnd toDave Jewson
  22. 22. Another central figure was John Lund. He pioneered research on diatom phytoplankton, especially in relation to nutrients.He supervised the diatom studies of Frank Round and Liz Haworth Example of the phytoplankton time series started in 1932 by WH Pearsall, taken over by Lund in 1945 and continued today by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology Windermere John Lund: 1912 - Lund, JWG. 1949/50 Journal of Ecology

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