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Joint Danube Survey 3 Comes to a Close

September 26, 2013

Part of the Joint Danube Survey 3’s fleet in action. © M. Schletterer

Today marks the end of the third Joint Danube Survey (JDS3), the biggest river research expedition in the world this year. After 2,375 kilometers and ten countries, the survey has collected a huge range of data to add to the study and management of the European Union’s longest river.

Public event hosted onboard to raise awareness of Danube conservation. © I. Stankovic

Organized by the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR), the JDS takes place once every 6 years; fittingly, this time it took place during the UN’s International Year of Water Cooperation. The full-time international team was composed of 18 scientists who traveled nearly the full length of the river, with assistance from national teams that helped with sampling and testing. JDS3 provides a unified dataset on water quality, biology, chemistry, and hydromorphology, from surveying fish and measuring water velocity to studying radioactive contaminants from the Chernobyl accident.

Beginning on August 14th in Regensburg, Germany, the team traveled to 68 sampling sites, finishing today in Tulcea, Romania. The survey’s fleet consisted of Serbia’s Argus and Romania’s Istros, as well as three smaller boats for sampling in the river and on shore. Adapting to living conditions aboard was challenging, says Patrick Leitner, a member of the macroinvertebrates sampling team. Cabin space was limited, forcing some of the team to spend the night ashore, and proximity also made conducting research more complicated, as the group had to coordinate on where to store samples and when to use the water pump. But the scientists adjusted quickly, says Leitner: “situations like that definitely force the team spirit.” The actual surveying also required careful orchestration; with several teams working to take different kinds of samples on both shores and time at each site limited to four hours, getting everything done constituted a logistical feat.

Disseminating information about BioFresh © I. Stankovic

The scientists’ time on the Danube is well spent, however. In addition to being the major river connecting central and southeastern Europe, the river contains a diverse range of habitats: the river basin hosts around 2,000 plant and 5,000 animal species, many of which are endangered, says project manager Igor Liska. JDS3 provides a single organized dataset for the entire river, as well as fostering cooperation between all the Danube countries, inside and outside the EU, as they work together on monitoring and assessment. In addition, the team hosted public events, press conferences and onboard visits, to raise awareness of ICPDR’s work and freshwater conservation, including BioFresh.

The survey will also feed directly into policy: all ICPDR countries have endorsed the EU Water Framework Directive, which requires surface waters to achieve “good chemical and ecological status by 2015.” The first two surveys provided information to identify the region’s main issues, and helped Danubian and European policymakers to set policy. JDS3 follows up on that information to see if the river’s status is improving, since some of the key policy measures have already been implemented. The results of this survey will also feed into the next Danube River Basin Management Plan and the Joint Program of Measures, which will be adopted at the end of 2015.

A mass of Ephoron virgo mayflies collected during the survey. The species is rebounding, possibly due to improved river conditions. © P. Leitner

This year, Leitner says that the team saw the “extensive return” of the mayfly species Ephoron virgo, a characteristic species of large rivers, which may be due to significant improvement in overall habitat quality. He says, “perhaps after evaluating all the samples of JDS2 there will be a surprise or two,” indicating the return of other threatened species. (For the full story on Ephoron virgo, go to the JDS3’s news page and scroll to September 2nd.) However, there are still important areas to address, according to Liska: key research priorities include the spread of invasive species and tracking contamination from emerging substances.

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