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Meet the MARS Team: Laurence Carvalho

May 6, 2014
A swan taking off from Loch Leven, Scotland.  Image: L Carvalho.

A swan taking off from Loch Leven, Scotland. Image: L Carvalho.

carvalhoThis week we continue our ‘Meet the Team‘ series with an interview with MARS researcher Laurence Carvalho.

Laurence is a freshwater ecologist at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology in Edinburgh, Scotland.  He is particularly known for his work on the impacts of eutrophication and climate change on lakes.

He has previously worked on European Commission projects such as WISER, REBECCA and Eurolimpacs, and helped develop a phytoplankton classification tool for UK lakes for the Water Framework Directive.

1. What is the focus of your work for MARS?

I am leading the “synthesis” Work Package in MARS, which aims to synthesise the results from experiments, observations and modelling carried out in the project.

The aim is to compare how stressors interact across different spatial scales from individual water bodies, across river basins and all the way up to the European scale.  The work also aims to use this synthesis to identify diagnostic indicators and deliver recommendations for improved Integrated River Basin Management across Europe.

More personally, I hope to contribute to work examining the response of lake algal blooms to the combined effects of nutrients and extreme climatic events. I plan to look at this using a long-term dataset from Loch Leven in Scotland and a large-scale dataset from lakes across Europe.

Loch Leven, Scotland.  Image: L Carvalho

Loch Leven, Scotland. Image: L Carvalho

2. Why is your work important?

Freshwaters provide society with so many benefits, not just water for drinking and agriculture.  Many of these benefits, such as fishing, recreation and tourism, rely on diverse, healthy ecosystems and good water quality.

It is important that we better understand the linkages between ecosystem health and human health and well-being, as this should ensure greater public and political support to manage this resource more sustainably in the future.

In addition to these benefits to humans, the intrinsic value of freshwaters in supporting a rich biodiversity – whether that is birds, fish or frogs – is also fundamentally important.

The amazing world of algae: the cyanobacteria that gave our planet oxygen.  Image: L Carvalho.

The amazing world of algae: the cyanobacteria that gave our planet oxygen. Image: L Carvalho.

3. What are the key challenges for freshwater management in Europe?

Better management of floods and droughts given increasing climate extremes is probably the key challenge.  Ideally finding more nature-based solutions to these challenges, such as working with society to create more naturally functioning floodplains, rather looking at the river or the lake as the problem.

As well as floods and droughts, given that a high proportion of freshwaters in Europe that are in less than good status and there is an ongoing loss of freshwater biodiversity, another key challenge is working out what so-called “sustainable exploitation” really looks like and putting in place better integrated policies and management to achieve it.

If done carefully, incorporating concepts of “ecosystem services” into policy and management should help with this.

Working at the European Commission at Ispra, Italy also allowed for frequent “sampling” trips to Lago Maggiore... Image: L Carvalho

Working at the European Commission at Ispra, Italy also allowed for frequent “sampling” trips to Lago Maggiore… Image: L Carvalho

4. Tell us about a memorable experience in your career.

Surveying rare aquatic plants in the amazing watery landscape of North Uist off the west coast of Scotland is right up there for breath-taking scenery and life’s simple pleasures.  It matches lake coring in the deserts of Inner Mongolia, working for a year at the European Commission in Italy and playing water polo in Lake Balaton with friends and colleagues at the Shallow Lakes meeting in Hungary.

Water Polo in Lake Balaton, Hungry at the Shallow Lakes conference 2002.  Image: L Carvalho.

Water Polo in Lake Balaton, Hungary at the Shallow Lakes conference 2002. Image: L Carvalho.

In fact every Shallow Lakes conference is inspiring in terms of work and play, so I can predict my next memorable experience will be at their next meeting in Turkey this October!

5. What inspired you to become a scientist?

Probably a local priest who dismissed the theory of evolution! This was about the same time as David Attenborough’s fantastic BBC television series “Life on Earth” which described the rich evidence behind this wonderful process in all its glory.

A day off work in Italy well spent!  Image: L Carvalho.

A day off work in Italy well spent! Image: L Carvalho.

6. What are your plans and ambitions for your future scientific work?

There’s still lots to learn about algae and other microbes  – their fundamental role in providing us with clean water and a stable atmosphere offers plenty for the future!  But I am very keen to work more with people outside my discipline, with social scientists and environmental economists, to really deliver a greater understanding of the value of restoring the health of our freshwaters.

You can read more about Laurence’s work at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology website, and follow him on Twitter @LacLaurence.

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