'Diatoms, Mud and Lakes in Time and Space' by Professor Rick Battarbee FRS

You must accept cookies to view this content.

Rick says:

"My early interest in diatoms and how they could be used to track ecosystem change stemmed from my PhD on Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland.  In the very warm summer of 1967 Lough Neagh turned green, bright green, taking the local community completely by surprise.  My supervisor Frank Oldfield wondered whether the sediments, assumed to be accumulating in the lake, might hold a record of the lake’s very recent history and thereby help to provide an insight into the cause of the algal (cyanobacterial) bloom.  At that time, however, palaeolimnology as a science was very much in its infancy and lacked many of the methods needed to answer such questions easily.  Our early work consequently focussed more on “proof of concept” and method development than on environmental problem solving.  As techniques were developed, if not perfected, during the 1970s, it became apparent that palaeolimnological methods could indeed provide robust, high resolution and, in some cases, unequivocal insights into recent lake history.  By the time the “acid rain” issue became of concern in the early 1980s we had most of the tools in place to make a major contribution.  The missing link, stimulated by the acidification debate was provided by the advent of “transfer functions”, a numerical approach pioneered by John Birks, Cajo ter Braak and Steve Juggins enabling changes in lake-water pH to be modelled from changes in the composition of diatom assemblages found in lake sediments. In this talk I will outline my involvement in the development and use of palaeolimnological methods and bring the acid rain story up-to-date based on data from the UK Uplands Water Monitoring Network now in its 33rd year."

Rick Battarbee is Emeritus Professor of Environmental Change at University College London, and was the director of the Environmental Change Research Centre (ECRC) at UCL from 1991 to 2007.  He has also held research positions at Uppsala University (Sweden), Ulster University (Northern Ireland), Joensuu University (Finland) and the University of Minnesota (USA). 
Throughout his career he has been interested in the way lake sediment records can be used to reconstruct lake ecosystem change through time.  In particular he has pioneered the use of diatoms as indicators of past water quality, helping to develop techniques that are now used routinely throughout the world. 

With his colleagues in the ECRC he has successfully applied those techniques to problems of eutrophication, surface water acidification and climate change.  In the 1980s he and his group demonstrated that “acid rain” was responsible for causing the acidification of surface waters in the UK uplands, research that helped to persuade the UK government to recognise international protocols on the reductions of sulphur dioxide emissions from power stations. His research on upland waters continues, and now focuses on recovery from acidification, using data from the UK Upland Waters Monitoring Network that is now in its 33rd year. 

In retirement he co-ordinates the work of his village Environment Group in Addingham in West Yorkshire and has helped to establish the River Wharfe in Ilkley as the first running water site in the UK to be awarded bathing water status under the EU Bathing Water Directive.  

He has received numerous awards for his work, most notably he was elected a Foreign Member of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters in 1991, and he became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2006.  He received the Ruth Patrick Award from the American Society for Limnology and Oceanography in 2009, and the Victoria Medal from the Royal Geographical Society in 2010.  In 2012 he became an Einstein Professor in the Chinese Academy of Sciences. He was awarded the James Croll Medal of the UK Quaternary Research Association in 2013 and was the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Paleolimnology Association in 2015.  He was Editor-in-Chief of Biology Letters from 2014 to 2018 and in 2018 he was elected as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. 

He served on the FBA Council as a Trustee as the Royal Society’s representative from 2011 to 2017 and became an FBA Fellow in 2018. 

Associated links:
Professor Rick Battarbee's Bio

Upcoming webinars

Receive Priority Notification:

Places for our webinars are limited - members will receive advanced notification to register for upcoming webinars before they appear on our website.



The current webinar series aims to explore the biographies of our appointed Fellows and provide us with a valuable insight into their careers within the freshwater realm.

We welcome you to join us live by registering for one of our 'Upcoming Webinars' - just click the webinar link that you're interested in and you will be taken to a page where you can register.

Many of these webinars are free to join, so please share them with all of your freshwater-friends!