Last week we went to Macedonia to see whether it was really in Greece or is a country on it’s own. Oh, and to also attend a lake drilling workshop.
First things first, Macedonia is both a country and a region in Greece. It is all this mixed up kind of geopolitics that is blog cannot handle (at the moment). The country was once part of Yugoslavia and during the break up in 1991, chose to call themselves Macedonia. This did not go down well with neighbouring Greek who had wanted that name to be exclusive to the northern part of Greece. The country is referred to as the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) to distinguish it from the region in Greece. To read up more about this complex issue, check out http://www.historyofmacedonia.org/MacedonianGreekConflict/conflict.html.
We landed in Skopje (pronounced as skopye because Js are Ys there) on Sunday and travelled to Peshtani where we stayed at the Desaret Hotel next to Lake Ohrid. This is where the 3 day workshop organised by ICDP took place. ICDP supports science drilling on continents (as opposed to oceans that’s IODP) to help bring out science that can solve today’s and future’s challenges. Our particular interest during this workshop was lake drilling. Lake drilling provides earth scientists with continous sediment cores which they can study to recreate past climate. Paleoclimate studies are of increasing importance as they help us understand the kind of environment that was there in the past and therefore provide input on what to expect in the future.
The past is the key to the future
In Kenya, climate studies are used to understand the environment first man lived in. They are also used to understsand how major tectonic events (such as the formation of the Great Rift Valley) change the geomorphology or the surface of the earth. These past studies can then be used to plan for future events/calamities and to redistribute natural resources.
Science deep drilling is not what I had imagined at all. One can read all about it but being on barge in the middle of a lake is something else. Drilling 500+m below the lake bed (not lake level) has its challenges. At a lake drilling expedition you do not have the luxury of acquring ocean drilling equipment (these can go up to 4000m below the freaking ocean floor). This is because they cannot fit on a lake (or be transported to one) and are crazy expensive. Not like lake drilling is cheap. No no no no. One drilling expedition can cost you as much as one million US dollars. But that still pales in comparison to ocean drilling. Apart from the cost, other challenges include:-
lake currents – you cannot work when the wind is blowing you and your tiny barge every which way.
government laws – customs may not allow you to pass some equipment through especially when they hear they contain radioactive elements.
logistical issues – such projects include working with a large team and therefore miscommunication can cost you
border issues – Lake Victoria is owned by 3 countries so conducting a seismic survey may have you crossing political boundaries, make sure the other countries expect you.
Basically scientific drilling ends you up doing less science and more everything else.
Since it’s impossible to conduct such drilling without funding, various countries have governmental agencies that help out with the funds. ICDP is one and that covers only the drilling. For the science you can try other funders eg NSF, NERC, GFZ etc.
Kenya has science funding agency too. Nacosti http://www.nacosti.go.ke/ which, however, cannot handle such heavy projects on its own.
Field work was conducted on Lake Prespa (Lake Ohrid’s sister, separated by mountain ranges) where we had a field day learning how seismic studies are done on lakes and how cores are extracted from the middle of the lake. After the workshop, we took time to walk around Peshtani. Macedonia is a beautiful country (not more than Kenya, relax guys).
They reserved their old cities so it was nice to walk around and see the past. The lake view however takes the cake in my opinion. Maybe it was because that is where we spent most of our time. Lake Ohrid, which is considered one of the oldest lakes in Europe (dates older than 3 million years), is oligotrophic which means it has low nutrient content and organic matter and therefore is very clear. You can see upto depths of 22m from the surface, how cool is that?
The lake excites scientists more because of its high levels of endemism – a lot of the species in this lake can only be found in this lake. Another lake with such property is Lake Tanganyika in neighbouring Tanzania. (Lake Victoria too had a high level of endemism but introduced species of Nile Perch killed off most of them).
L. Ohrid is also an ancient and deep lake. Human influence is threatening lake life, which the famous Ohrid trout almost disappearing. Thankfully, the agencies are trying their best to save them. You can read more about these efforts and sign petition to save the lake https://ohridsos.wordpress.com/
All in all, it was a great chance to learn more about earth science and hopefully I can share what I learnt in greater detail over the next posts.
PS. Sorry about the perceived silence. After we got hacked and got our posts deleted and replaces with pics of Doge (this was obviously a 9gag fan. Not funny) it took us longer to get back on our feet. We could only recover posts done last year. So I know this looks like the first post this year. We are planning to change up things in future so I hope you all can keep up and support us. (Written in 2015)