Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network Attracts More Countries, Students, Sites

By Doug Ramsey, 858-822-5825,

GLEON’s Newest Instrumented Buoy Deployed on Florida Lake

San Diego, CA, March 19, 2008  -- More than 70 experts converged on Lake Placid, Florida, in late February for a meeting of the Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network (GLEON). The lake researchers, ecologists, environmental engineers and information-technology experts came from 17 countries in Asia, Latin America, Europe and North America - many for the first time.

GLEON at a Glance   Length: 7:15
Click on image above then right arrow to play Flash video profile of GLEON. To watch a streaming Windows Media version, click here [broadband required].

The grass-roots group is building a scalable, persistent network of lake ecology observatories to collect, share and collaborate over a growing flood of real-time data from lakes around the world. At present, the GLEON web portal showcases streaming data from nine lakes in four countries, with new sites added monthly.

"Many of the environmental threats that face lakes are not local, they are international in scope," says GLEON Steering Committee chair Timothy Kratz, who runs the Trout Lake Station of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "The spread of invasive species is a global issue that is manifested locally, as are the effects of climate change on our resources, and the way that changes in land use affect resources. So in order to have a full understanding of each of these issues and how lakes respond, one needs to have a complete set of types of lakes, locations of lakes, cultures in which lakes are located - and that's something that only an international network can do."


Paul Hanson

University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Paul Hanson leads the NSF-funded Research Coordination Network.

In addition to principal funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and foreign government support for GLEON's international collaborators, the network shared in a private, $2 million award in December 2007 from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. "What the Moore Foundation allows us to do is to put in place a physical network that shares data, which the NSF-funded Research Coordination Network [RCN] can draw upon. So these are very complementary activities," explains GLEON co-founder Peter Arzberger from the University of California, San Diego. "There is so much good science going on outside our borders, and because of our resource limitations, we have to be able to tap into that. They have expertise we don't have, and we have expertise they don't have."

"GLEON is a grassroots network of people who are interested in advancing ecology using technology," says Paul Hanson, a UW-Madison researcher who is principal investigator on the NSF-funded Research Coordination Network grant that funds GLEON efforts to build a community of researchers. "By having and developing a grassroots network, we empower individuals who participate in GLEON to decide on the future of the network, the policies we develop, the actions we take, and the science questions we address."

UC San Diego researchers at the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) and the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) are playing a critical role in designing the communications and information-technology infrastructure - cyberinfrastructure, for short - that links lake observing systems to each other through a publicly available web portal.

"Cyberinfrastructure is important for the GLEON network and other environmental observing systems because it is the medium by which you collect data, share data and collaborate," says SDSC's Tony Fountain, principal investigator on the NSF DataTurbine project, which has created an open-source version of commercial technology to handle streaming data from environmental sensors, and made the technology available to all GLEON members. "Without these automated tools, it is not possible to do modern environmental science. The time when you could conduct your field research with a pen and pencil is long past."


Lake Sunapee buoy

Volunteers from the Lake Sunapee Protective Association put the finishing touches to the 'citizen science' project.

GLEON emerged in 2005 from a partnership between the University of Wisconsin and Taiwan's National Center for High-performance Computing (NCHC). NCHC set up EcoGrid in 2002 as a way to give Taiwanese ecologists access to data from environmental sensors. "With EcoGrid, many sensors were deployed but no network," says GLEON Steering Committee member Fang-Pang Lin, an NCHC researcher and member of the NSF-funded Pacific Rim Applications and Grid Middleware Assembly (PRAGMA). PRAGMA creates links among researchers and institutions around the Pacific Rim that stand to benefit from the application of high-performance and grid computing, and the development or use of cyberinfrastructure.

Through PRAGMA, Lin was introduced to University of Wisconsin limnologist Tim Kratz, who visited Taiwan. Within eight months, they had a functioning buoy on Yuan Yang Lake, a small mountain lake in Taiwan. "So we thought, gee, we did this for two lakes: what's to stop us from doing this globally?" recalls Kratz. "Right now it is possible to go to a single website and access data from nine different lakes in four different places around the world, and we're adding to that monthly. Not only are all these data available to researchers, but they're also available to the general public."


Tim Kratz on Trout Lake

GLEON Steering Committee chair Tim Kratz (rear) with former Chinese graduate student at Trout Lake Station in Wisconsin.

Lin says that Taiwanese lake researchers recognize the benefits of sharing data from instrumented lakes. "They get high-frequency data in real time," says Lin. "So now they can do a different kind of research, with more analysis and more on the science."

During the GLEON 6 meeting at the Archbold Biological Field Station in Florida, researchers deployed an instrumented buoy on nearby Lake Annie, one of the most studied lakes in Florida. Limnological surveys of the lake, taking measurements of physical, chemical and biological conditions, have been carried out every month since 1983, and Archbold Biological Station director Hilary Swain says the new non-stop data from the lake buoy will offer new insight into lake processes.

"What we had in the past was as if we lived our life and we had our eyes open only one day every month of the year," says Swain. "You can imagine how much you'd miss if you only had your eyes open one day a month every year. That was the amount of data we were collecting. Now we are going to have our eyes open 24/7/365, and that will revolutionize what we understand about the lake."


Lake Annie buoy being deployed

Preparing to launch the instrumented buoy in Lake Annie, Florida

The buoy deployed on the pristine, 90-acre Lake Annie is powered by solar panels and a rechargeable battery. Equipped with a data logger, it carries half a dozen sensors to measure variables, including water temperature at different depths down to about 65', pH levels, and how clear the water is by comparing levels of sunlight above and below the surface of the lake. The buoy is also equipped with a 900-megaherz wireless transmitter, which sends the sensor data to the web via a computer at the Archbold field station 2.8 kilometers from the lake.

Florida International University professor Evelyn Gaiser oversaw deployment of the buoy on Lake Annie. "We were able to know it was actually transmitting because we called from the lake to the station to find the data were already streaming in," said Gaiser. "Our readings will be coming in every 15 minutes of the same kind of things that we monitor in our monthly program, but at a temporal frequency that will allow us to address a much broader set of questions, not only for our lake, but in this larger network of lakes."


Lake Annie Buoy

Newly-deployed environmental monitoring buoy in Lake Annie

According to Gaiser, hosting the GLEON meeting gave Florida researchers the impetus to put the automated buoy in place: "It lit a fire under us to get all of the equipment and all the people in place to help and get it done in time. We wouldn't be doing this if we weren't part of the GLEON network and if we didn't have the help coming from that."

Instrumented buoys and other cyberinfrastructure are allowing lake researchers to cover a vast amount of space, and integrate time measurements at intervals that were not possible until now. "So now you're able to ask different types of questions," adds UCSD's Arzberger. "You can begin to think of lake systems in the face of larger planetary systems: What role do they play when we talk about the circulation of carbon in the atmosphere? What role do they play more broadly, rather than just the single lake?"


Yuan-Yang Lake

Researchers on Taiwan's Yuan Yang Lake, the first GLEON site to go "online".

"If you're looking at ecosystem research, it's very interdisciplinary," agrees David Hamilton, a professor at the University of Waikato in New Zealand. "Not all of the expertise resides in one place. So what you have to do is pull in people who have specialist expertise that contributes to the big picture."

Most lake researchers appear convinced that understanding lakes will require deployment of sensors and automated monitoring equipment, and comparing the data across types of lakes and geographies. According to Ami Nishri of the Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research Institute, sensors deployed in the Sea of Galilee have left no doubt about the value of non-stop data. "We know the power of it," says Nishri. "We are having the data transmitted to the lab, and you come to work in the morning and you know what happened in the lake overnight."


Lake Erken, Sweden

Sweden's Lake Erken was the first Scandinavian site to begin feeding real-time data to the GLEON network.

"Taking measurements with high frequency is very important," agrees University of Helsinki researcher Lauri Arvola, who is working to integrate automated sensors on Finland's Lake Pääjärvi into the GLEON network by the end of 2008. "We know that there are many processes - physical, chemical and biological - that take place in minutes or an hour. So if we go once a month or once a week, we miss a huge amount of information and almost never get to real-time measurements, and this is something we need very much."

New Zealand's David Hamilton is overseeing the deployment of sensors in that country's Rotorua Lakes region. "For me it was a very logical step to start to instrument these lakes with buoys," explains Hamilton, who holds the Chair in Lakes Management and Restoration at the University of Waikato. The chair was funded by a regional environmental organization, Environment Bay of Plenty, to pursue research on water resources. "If you didn't go out for two or three days and missed an event of very low oxygen concentrations that potentially killed all of the aerobic organisms within the lake, then you might miss the whole change in the ecology of the system."


Fang-Pang Lin

On the Record

"The GLEON community provides a very nice opportunity for graduate students to understand what's happening first-hand and in real time. I think it has an immense benefit and we'll continue to have grad students participate in this project."
- Fang-Pang Lin, NCHC, Taiwan (above)

"In GLEON we have brainstorming sessions for new ideas, exchange knowledge about sensors or about data streaming, and we can exchange Ph.D. students. It's just fantastic." - Thorsten Blenckner, Uppsala University, Sweden

"By expanding to a global network, we have access to a tremendous diversity of ecosystems that cover different ranges in hydrology, in nutrient loading, in food web dynamics and weather and local climate driving." - Paul Hanson, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA

"International participation among all the different countries is the way of science going forward. We have to share our different experiences and different knowledge and we have to learn because what we don't know we will learn. This is science: working together." - Maria Cintia Piccolo, Instituto Argentino de Oceanografia, Argentina

"Of all the water on the planet, only one percent of it is drinkable at all, so clearly if we look forward - especially in southern California where we happen to be, where predictions are of drought over the coming years - care of water resources and the health of those water resources is very, very important, and lakes and reservoirs play a very important role in this." - Peter Arzberger, UC San Diego and Calit2, USA

"Having instrumented buoys and having the IT support and technology allows me to access data from my study lake in Taiwan from my desk in Wisconsin at any time of year." - Ashley Shade, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA

"We want to address the issue of algae blooming in Lake Taihu and to do that we need automated instruments to monitor what happens in the lake. We cannot do that manually." - Boqiang Qin, Nanjing Institute of Geography and Limnology, China

"GLEON is using new tools that allow us to answer questions that we couldn't answer before, at time scales that we couldn't understand in the past without these sensors." - Kathleen Weathers, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, USA

From China's Lake Taihu to California's Lake Mead, lakes can be an important source of drinking water to bustling metropolitan areas nearby. South Korea's Lake Soyang supplies half the water to Seoul's 15 million inhabitants. "Recently we had some trouble with eutrophication of reservoirs and turbidity problems due to soil erosion from agricultural fields," says Kangwon National University professor Bomchul Kim, a member of GLEON, who discussed the problem with his international counterparts at the Florida meeting.

Getting better data to feed into computer models that simulate ecological processes is an important driver for scientists joining GLEON. "Modeling in a network is a key tool," says David da Motta Marques of Brazil's Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul. "It's a good tool to foresee the future and drive new questions, because you don't need to go into the field. Your questions can be answered very fast and can give you new insights."

During the Florida meeting, GLEON working groups discussed areas of future cooperation. "We are at the stage now where there is enough critical mass in a few areas," believes UCSD's Arzberger. "One is modeling, another is microbial ecology, and another is understanding the role of episodic events on lakes."

Comparing lake data across national boundaries offers researchers new avenues for understanding phenomena on the primary lakes they study. "It's hard to find good replicates of lakes because you're stuck with whatever you have in your location," says Trina McMahon, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "Wisconsin has a lot of beautiful lakes but sometimes we need a lake that is different enough in some kind of way that we can't find in Wisconsin, or we prefer it to be at a different latitude or a different elevation. We can do more controlled comparisons that way."

Case in point: New Hampshire's Lake Sunapee, one of the first member sites in GLEON, which recently began showing evidence of cyanobacterial (or blue-green algae) blooms..

"There were no previous data about this bloom, so we began researching it just about the time it showed up," recalls Kathleen Weathers, a researcher at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York. "But no monitoring data were available that would allow us to track this bloom over time." Weathers - who spent childhood summers at Lake Sunapee - began researching the problem on a sabbatical to work with the Lake Sunapee Protective Association, whose private members were among the first to discover the problem.


Kathleen Weathers

Kathleen Weathers worked with the local lake association to make New Hampshire's Lake Sunapee part of GLEON.

Weathers suggested that an automated buoy might let the community monitor more precisely conditions in the lake (if not the cyanobacteria as such). "I brought the idea back to them and they were immediately intrigued," recalls Weathers. "Even people who have no interest in science were intrigued. In the end they financed the buoy, and even banded together volunteer engineers to create a design for the buoy. The partnership is quite remarkable."

Weathers also thinks that membership in GLEON will allow Lake Sunapee's citizen scientists to share their model with other communities around the world. "There is tremendous potential for buoy data to be a common language not only for scientists, but also for people interested in their lakes and water resources," says Weathers.


Cayelan Carey

Ph.D. student Cayelan Carey has worked at two GLEON sites, Lake Erken in Sweden and Lake Sunapee in the U.S.

By making most of their data available to the public over the Internet, GLEON members hope to engage more community organizations and citizen scientists in environmental research and lake management. Increasingly, graduate students are also taking advantage of GLEON's disparate lakes. Cayelan Carey, who began studying Lake Sunapee as an undergraduate, is now also studying another GLEON site, Sweden's Lake Erken. She is focusing her Ph.D. research at Cornell University and Uppsala University on plankton populations in disparate lakes facing invasive alga blooms. Lake Sunapee is a low-nutrient lake where the blooms are relatively new, whereas Lake Erken is a high-nutrient lake where the invasive blooms have been studied for years.


NSF and Moore Foundation logos

Funding Sources for GLEON Activities

The primary U.S. sources of support for the Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network are the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and the National Science Foundation. NSF units that have provided funding include: Office of Cyberinfrastructure (OCI); Office of International Science and Engineering (OISE); Directorate for Biological Sciences' Division of Biological Infrastructure (DBI) and Division of Enviornmental Biology (DEB); and Directorate for Computer and Information Sciences and Engineering (CISE) Division of Information and Intelligent Systems (CISE/IIS). Below are some of the specific awards supporting GLEON activities, including some from the DBI-funded National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON):

  National Science Foundation

  • Pacific Rim Application and Grid Middleware:  Broadening PRAGMA’s Impact on Global Science and Technology Communities, OCI 0627026, and additional funding from OISE, NEON, IIS, to UCSD.
  • Collaborative Research: Automating Scaling and Data Processing in a Network of Sensors:  Towards a Global Network . NEON 0446802  to UCSD;   0446017 to U Wisconsin; 0446298 Award to Indiana University
  • Research Coordination Network: Advancing lake ecology by building an international community to exploit innovations in sensor network technology , DBI 0639229 to U Wisconsin
  • Supplements from OISE for targeted international collaborations:
    • LTER North Temperate Lakes, U Wisconsin, Interactions with Taiwan
    • Automatic Scaling, U Wisconsin,
      • Interactions with Korea and China
      • Interactions with Nordic Countries: Sweden and Finland
    • Research Coordination Network, U Wisconsin, Interactions with Argentina and Chile
  • East Asia Pacific Summer Institute (EAPSI) in OISE: For support of graduate students from U Wisconsin studying in Taiwan
  • The Ring Buffer Network Bus (RBNB) DataTurbine Streaming Data System , OCI 0722067, and additional funding from NEON, to UCSD.
  • Development of a Strategic Plan to Address Field Station Needs to Research, Teaching,   and Outreach in Northern New England, DBI 0434684, to Institute for Ecosystems Studies.
  • North Temperate Lakes LTER award provided technical support for the buoys in Wisconsin.

  Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation

  • Towards a Distributed Information System for Marine Biology and Limnology, to UCSD, U Wisconsin
  • Building Community Based, Grass-Roots Research Networks: The Cases of Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network (GLEON) and of Coral Reef Ecological Observatory Network (CREON), to UCSD, U Wisconsin, Taiwan's National Center for High-Performance Computing, UC Santa Barbara
"I was working with data from two GLEON sites simultaneously in the U.S. and in Sweden," recalls Carey. "We still have several hypotheses that are yet to be tested but it's been great to have the interaction between the Swedish scientists who have been working on this problem for decades and the American scientists who are just beginning to work on this problem."

GLEON also allows scientists to tackle fundamental issues of the weather's impact on the environment. "In most of our lakes, there is no ice cover at all, or a much earlier ice cover," says Uppsala University professor Thorsten Blenckner. "We see changes in Sweden, in Norway, in Finland and Estonia and all over Europe. So the question now is: does it matter? In GLEON, we hope to be able to answer the question." The German-born scientist recently received European funding to expand the number of sensors and automated buoys on Swedish lakes, and to compare data across Scandinavian sites through GLEON.

At the GLEON meeting in Florida, and at the prior half-yearly meeting in Finland, there was a push to get more graduate students involved, and to fuel collaborations among students from different backgrounds. "For the first time we have a substantial number of information-technology students and aquatic ecology graduate students, who don't normally interface at their home institutions," says Cornell's Cayelan Carey, who leads the graduate-student contingent within GLEON. "By coming together we are trying to develop a vocabulary for the two to interact and share data."

Graduate students held their own sessions in Florida to identify topics of special interest to them - everything from 'buoys for dummies' to a statistics course on how to deal with huge sets of time-series data.


"As we go on over the next 20 years - which will be critical for our environment - having students be able to understand and see data from these types of lakes will be very transformational," predicts UCSD's Arzberger. "They will become part of the longer-term process of maintaining and improving the environment, and this is where education is so important."

"These larger-scale networking kinds of science are going to be a significant way in which science is done in the future," says Barbara Benson, of UW-Madison's Center for Limnology. "I think GLEON is trying to be very creative and aware about training students to be able to step into leadership roles in the future in terms of these larger networks."


Peter Arzberger

GLEON Steering Committee member Peter Arzberger is based in Calit2 at UC San Diego.

At Archbold Biological Station, location of Lake Annie, the Station's director says the goal now is to deploy additional sensors in other areas throughout the ecological reserve. "The greatest value of sensors is that they give you the ability to collect continuous data," explains Hilary Swain. "No biologist can be in the field 24/7, and suddenly it's like you have a technological ally out in the field with you, collecting good consistent data. That has completely changed the way you think about biology."

As more buoys are deployed on more lakes around the world and more data are shared over the GLEON network, the cyberinfrastructure will give researchers the chance to collaborate in new ways. But eventually, the value of these new high-tech tools depends on the answer to one question. "Are we going to be able to do new science?" asks GLEON Steering Committee member Arzberger. "Ultimately, that is the bottom line. That is the metric by which we'll declare ourselves successful and prove, or not, this notion that cyberinfrastructure is about community building and new science."

Related Links
Archbold Biological Station