Linking Geology & Biology in Europe’s oldest lake: a 1.3 million-year record of climate change and evolution from Lake Ohrid…by Jack Lacey and Melanie Leng

Lake Ohrid SCOPSCO science team, photo courtesy of F. Wagner-Cremer.
The Lake Ohrid drilling project has featured regularly on Geoblogy over past years, now reaching its final stages Jack Lacey and Melanie Leng from the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry travelled to the Netherlands to attend the 6th project workshop in Utrecht. Here they report on the meeting and provide a much overdue update on this ground-breaking interdisciplinary research…

Lake Ohrid is one of only a handful of lakes worldwide that has continuously existed for millions of years and contains hundreds of unique species found nowhere else. It represents an outstanding natural laboratory allowing us to explore the links between geological processes (climate change, volcanic eruptions, tectonic activity) and biological evolution – i.e. what drives speciation; stable conditions or rapid environmental change. To this end, the lake was drilled in 2013 as part of the International Continental scientific Drilling Program’s (ICDP) Scientific Collaboration On Past Speciation Conditions in Lake Ohrid (SCOPSCO) project (see blog series). The fieldwork campaign recovered over 2000 m of sediment from four sites around the lake, with a master record in the central basin reaching 569 m below lake floor that archives at least 1.3 million years of Earth’s history back to the Early Pleistocene.

Recently, we published our findings from the upper half of the core - covering 650,000 years - as a special issue in the journal Biogeosciences (open access). The team has been working extremely hard to finalise analytical work on the lower half of the record, and we met in Utrecht last week to discuss new developments and future efforts. In short, progress has been exceptional and for many proxies (e.g. isotopes, pollen) the majority of work is complete for the entire lacustrine succession (equivalent to the upper 430 m of sediment). The project has now reached a very exciting stage, proxy data from different research groups are being collated and we can start to understand how the lake has responded to both long- and short-term environmental change, answer fundamental questions about why/how the lake first formed and ultimately determine what drove biological evolution. We also have one of the longest and best land-based archives of tephra (volcanic ash) in the Mediterranean, which will allow us to accurately date our core material and directly compare to other regional and global sequences. However, there is still much work to be done - so keep an eye out for future updates!

Thanks go to Friederike Wagner-Cremer and Timme Donders at the University of Utrecht for organising the workshop, and to the entire SCOPSCO team who exemplify the best of interdisciplinary and collaboratory science.

To find out more about SCOPSCO visit the project website, or for further information please contact
By Jack Lacey and Melanie Leng (Centre for Environmental Geochemistry & Stable Isotope Facility, British Geological Survey)