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  • Eleanor Jennings

MANTEL Project 10 - Qing Zhan on joining mantel at the half way stage.

On July 10, 2019, I became an Early-Stage-Researcher (ESR) on the MANTEL European Joint Doctorate, based at Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW), working on the MANTEL project 10 entitled “Mitigating negative impacts of extreme events on the sustained provision of lake ecosystem services”. As one of two ESRs who joined midway (together with Alexa Hoke for MANTEL-project 4), my experiences and research plan in MANTEL are somehow different from other 10 ESRs who started from the beginning, which I would like to share in this Blog.

Story with MANTEL: When I first read this project, I was directly attracted by its focus on adapting lake and reservoir management into a changing world, where more extreme events like storm and heatwave could have negative effects on aquatic ecosystem. Development of a more robust management strategy that can mitigate the negative impacts of extreme events would therefore be crucial for sustaining the ecosystem services. After I knew more about MANTEL I was further impressed by its superior networking of universities, institutes, and industry partners from 8 countries in Europe. Therefore, it didn’t take me long before applying for this position despite its already on-going status. It’s an honour and also a challenge to join a group of the best and brightest young as well as senior scientists. During the past MANTEL-training in Tartu, Estonia, and Gleon21 in Huntsville, Canada I’m kind of surprised by all Mantel people being so nice and approachable, which definitely makes it much easier to get on board and dive into the project.

Research Plan and progress: We planned to combine laboratory experiments with field monitoring data to determine the impacts of extreme events on the water quality status, with a special interest on eutrophication. Subsequently, we tested a novel geo-engineering tool of eutrophication control, Phoslock® (a solid phosphorus sorbent), in mitigating nutrient enrichment under extreme event disturbances. Currently, we are working on a sediment incubation experiment in laboratory microcosms done by Cleo Stratmann, in which the effectivity of Phoslock® under short-term heatwave is investigated. The results have been presented at three different conferences including the poster sessions in Gleon21 and NALMS2019, and a talk at the international conference on water ecological restoration and environmental engineering in the Maxunitech 20thAnniversary and Forum on sustainable agriculture. Next step, we will utilize long-term water quality data from an in-situ monitoring network at a catchment in south-western of the Netherlands, provided by our industry partner, Brabantse Delta, to study the influence of extreme events on algal bloom formation in this catchment. These studies based on tiered approaches, upscaling from microcosm, mesocosm, to in-situ scale will provide us a comprehensive and more encompassing insight of the ecosystem responses to extreme events, and propose potential mitigation techniques.

Challenge of my PhD: Moving from Germany where I did my masters to the Netherlands, even further away from my homeland China is the first challenge I had to face in my PhD life. Thanks to the warm welcome from new colleagues at NIOO and the friendly environment to foreigners in Wageningen, a university city with a big community of international students, I was able to settle in soon and well. Challenge in work mainly comes from the specific circumstances where I am to taking over a previous researcher’s project and analysing the data without being involved in the data collection. This indeed increases the difficulty of data quality control and processing. My main supervisor, Dr Lisette de Senerpont, is a well experienced aquatic ecologist and super nice person, who provides me a bunch of support whenever I get stuck. Being at a different stage of progress than other ESRs made me a bit worried at the beginning, but my awesome colleague Maggie (ESR project 11) as well as other easily communicating ESRs in MANTEL, helped me a lot in getting familiar and comfortable with our big MANTEL family. Another challenge of me is my to-be-improved English level to allow for more smooth scientific communication as well meet the standards of scientific publishing. Although it’s questionable for me to finish a thesis within the MANTEL project time given the rather short duration of the ESR-10 time remaining, I am confident of making a big progress in pursuing my PhD.

Expectation from MANTEL: Having advanced logistics support, innovative international collaboration, and desirable scientific networking, I cannot expect other than a successful research experience. I also hope to meet more interesting environmental scientists, and most importantly, to explore my career paths within and outside academia. I am also grateful for the chance to visit different beautiful places during secondments and conferences.