Russian subs arrive on Lake Geneva

© 2011 EPFL

© 2011 EPFL

The arrival of the MIR submersibles on the shores of Lake Geneva kicks off the Elemo scientific campaign. On board, international teams of researchers will explore the lake, to better understand and protect it.

The two MIR submersibles, weighing 18 tons each, were shipped across Europe, from the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad to the shores of Lake Geneva, a special convey traveling more than 1500 kilometers. Their arrival at the port of Bouveret kicks off the Elemo campaign. This summer, several teams of international scientists will explore the depths of the lake in the submersibles, where they will be able to survey strategic areas such as the deepest parts of the lake, the port of Vidy as well as the mouth of the Rhone. They will collect enough information for several years of work. Supported by Ferring Pharmaceuticals and the Russian Federation’s Honorary Consulate in Lausanne, this scientific program is coupled with a series of educational initiatives, including a public exhibition on the Quai d'Ouchy, which opens its doors on June 4th with support from the City of Lausanne.

A total of ten Swiss, British, Russian, French and American research institutions are taking part in the project. Their primary aim is to better understand the impact of human activity on Lake Geneva. Some 1.5 million people live near the lake, putting a great deal of pressure on the environment. For this project, scientists from all fields, including environmental experts, physicists, biologists and geologists, will be working together to investigate the situation in Lake Geneva, based on the latest advances in environmental science.

Micropollutants, an environmental challenge
One of the aims of the program is to study micropollutants, which are trace compounds that often slip through modern water treatment systems and accumulate in the food chain. The future health of the lake largely depends on a better understanding of micropollutants as well as their circulation and binding mechanisms in water, soil and living organisms.

In the MIR submersibles, the scientists will be able to explore specific zones of the lake, and perform analyses in situ. They will descend to the lakebed, more than 300 meters below the surface, to learn what organisms or chemicals are present and how the water circulates at those depths. At the mouth of the Rhone, they will explore the aquatic canyons with walls 50 meters high formed by river sediment. The submersibles will be equipped with state-of-the-art research equipment, including a mass spectrometer developed by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute that can detect chemicals in the water with extremely high accuracy.

The dives are just the beginning of the project. The next phase will play out this fall, when the data collected on board the submersibles will be analyzed and compared in the labs.

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A public exhibit
The Elemo program is also an awareness-raising campaign. From June 4th to August 21th, an exhibition on the Quai d'Ouchy will educate the public about the importance of protecting Lake Geneva and provide information about the scientific campaign as well as the history of the lake. Moreover visitors will have the opportunity to discover the FA Forel submersible built by Jacques Piccard which was used between 1978 and 2005 in Lake Geneva for scientific surveys. There is also a website for the project, featuring fun activities and educational materials developed in close collaboration with local teachers.