Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Scientists pioneer method to predict environmental collapse

Date:
November 19, 2012
Source:
University of Southampton
Summary:
Scientists are pioneering a technique to predict when an ecosystem is likely to collapse, which may also have potential for foretelling crises in agriculture, fisheries or even social systems. The researchers have applied a mathematical model to a real world situation, the environmental collapse of a lake in China, to help prove a theory which suggests an ecosystem 'flickers,' or fluctuates dramatically between healthy and unhealthy states, shortly before its eventual collapse.

Researcher Enlou Zhang takes a core sample from the bed of Lake Erhai in China.
Credit: University of Southampton

Scientists at the University of Southampton are pioneering a technique to predict when an ecosystem is likely to collapse, which may also have potential for foretelling crises in agriculture, fisheries or even social systems.

The researchers have applied a mathematical model to a real world situation, the environmental collapse of a lake in China, to help prove a theory which suggests an ecosystem 'flickers', or fluctuates dramatically between healthy and unhealthy states, shortly before its eventual collapse.

Head of Geography at Southampton, Professor John Dearing explains: "We wanted to prove that this 'flickering' occurs just ahead of a dramatic change in a system -- be it a social, ecological or climatic one -- and that this method could potentially be used to predict future critical changes in other impacted systems in the world around us."

A team led by Dr Rong Wang extracted core samples from sediment at the bottom of Lake Erhai in Yunnan province, China and charted the levels and variation of fossilised algae (diatoms) over a 125-year period. Analysis of the core sample data showed the algae communities remained relatively stable up until about 30 years before the lake's collapse into a turbid or polluted state. However, the core samples for these last three decades showed much fluctuation, indicating there had been numerous dramatic changes in the types and concentrations of algae present in the water -- evidence of the 'flickering' before the lake's final definitive change of state.

Rong Wang comments: "By using the algae as a measure of the lake's health, we have shown that its eco-system 'wobbled' before making a critical transition -- in this instance, to a turbid state.

"Dramatic swings can be seen in other data, suggesting large external impacts on the lake over a long time period -- for example, pollution from fertilisers, sewage from fields and changes in water levels -- caused the system to switch back and forth rapidly between alternate states. Eventually, the lake's ecosystem could no longer cope or recover -- losing resilience and reaching what is called a 'tipping point' and collapsing altogether."

The researchers hope the method they have trialled in China could be applied to other regions and landscapes.

Co-author Dr Pete Langdon comments: "In this case, we used algae as a marker of how the lake's ecosystem was holding-up against external impacts -- but who's to say we couldn't use this method in other ways? For example, perhaps we should look for 'flickering' signals in climate data to try and foretell impending crises?"


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Southampton. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Rong Wang, John A. Dearing, Peter G. Langdon, Enlou Zhang, Xiangdong Yang, Vasilis Dakos, Marten Scheffer. Flickering gives early warning signals of a critical transition to a eutrophic lake state. Nature, 2012; DOI: 10.1038/nature11655

Cite This Page:

University of Southampton. "Scientists pioneer method to predict environmental collapse." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 November 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121119093853.htm>.
University of Southampton. (2012, November 19). Scientists pioneer method to predict environmental collapse. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121119093853.htm
University of Southampton. "Scientists pioneer method to predict environmental collapse." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121119093853.htm (accessed July 22, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Michigan Plant's Goal: Flower and Die

Michigan Plant's Goal: Flower and Die

AP (July 22, 2014) An 80-year-old agave plant, which is blooming for the first and only time at a University of Michigan conservatory, will die when it's done (July 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
San Diego Zoo Welcomes New, Rare Rhino Calf

San Diego Zoo Welcomes New, Rare Rhino Calf

Reuters - US Online Video (July 21, 2014) An endangered black rhino baby is the newest resident at the San Diego Zoo. Sasha Salama reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Shark Sightings a Big Catch for Cape Tourism

Shark Sightings a Big Catch for Cape Tourism

AP (July 21, 2014) A rise in shark sightings along the shores of Chatham, Massachusetts is driving a surge of eager vacationers to the beach town looking to catch a glimpse of a great white. (July 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
$23.6 Billion Awarded To Widow In Smoking Lawsuit

$23.6 Billion Awarded To Widow In Smoking Lawsuit

Newsy (July 20, 2014) Cynthia Robinson claims R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company hid the health and addiction risks of its products, leading to the death of her husband in 1996. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins