Signals, Cycles, Circles and Surprises: Some reflections on water quality in the Anthropocene

Thursday, February 28, 2019 11:30 am - 12:30 pm EST (GMT -05:00)

As part of the Water Institute's WaterTalks lecture series Martyn Futter, Associate Professor in Landscape Scale Water Quality Modelling at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden, will present "Signals, Cycles, Circles and Surprises: Some reflections on water quality in the Anthropocene."

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Successful management of surface water eutrophication depends to a large degree on high-quality observations. Signals about the environment are obtained from both direct measurements made during long term monitoring programmes and proxies generated from targeted field campaigns using in-situ sensors. However, the interpretation of signals in proxy data is not straightforward and may introduce significant unexpected uncertainty in results.

Phosphorus in freshwaters exemplifies the “Goldilocks paradox”. Often there is either too much or too little, and very rarely is there just the right amount. A holistic perspective on element cycling may be one key to resolving the paradox. This will help us to understand both the widespread oligotrophication of near-pristine lakes in Sweden and Canada, and evaluate potential trade-offs between climate mitigation and surface water eutrophication.

Ever increasing demands placed on finite global resources by a growing global population demand a move from linear to circular thinking, with a greater commitment to phosphorus reuse. Futter will present examples of how circular approaches can not only reduce global demand for phosphorus but can contribute to rural sustainability and may help to solve seemingly intractable eutrophication problems.

Surprises can occur. These include potentially widespread regime shifts as well as unexpected delays in system response to nutrient control measures. These surprises can be the result of a lack of scientific understanding, as well as restrictive policy environments.

By considering coupled element cycles, basing evaluations on all available data and thoroughly exploring the consequences of a circular approach, it may be possible to reduce the likelihood of surprises in the future. Futter will present some highlights of his recent research, focusing mainly on phosphorus in surface waters, but with some digressions about the role of freshwaters in the global carbon cycle and what happens to microplastics that do not end up in the sea.

About the Speaker

Prof. Futter is a water quality modeller with extensive experience in model development and application. He is a key member of the INCA development team and has led or contributed to the development of models for nutrient, mercury and organic pollutant fate and transport. Most recently, he has been part of the development team for INCA-Tox, a generic, catchment-scale model for simulating the fate and transport of legacy and emerging organic pollutants. He is skilled in software development and environmental information management and has developed several tools for model calibration and sensitivity analysis. Martyn is an expert on European water policy including the Water Framework (WFD) and Floods Directives (FD). He has worked on stakeholder and sectoral responses to the WFD and the role of sustainable flood management in the FD. He has considerable experience developing strategies for communicating uncertainty to stakeholders. Martyn has been actively involved in the development and implementation of Water Footprint standards. He has specialist regional expertise in Fennoscandia, the Baltic States, the UK and Canada and sectoral expertise in forestry, drinking water supply, acidification and diffuse pollution. He has published widely with over 70 papers in the peer-reviewed scientific literature and is a guest speaker at a wide range of conferences and meetings.