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LAQUAN project

Antarctica phase V (2000-2005)

LAQUAN – Late quaternary climate history of coastal Antarctic environments: a multi-proxy approach


LAQUAN aims to study the late Quaternary (past 120,000 years) climate history of coastal Antarctic environments, by using a paleo-limnological approach. Paleo-limnologists analyze biological and non-biological climate indicators (or proxies) deposited in lake sediments to reconstruct past climate and environmental changes. In LAQUAN, biological proxies were analyzed, such as fossil DNA, diatoms (single-celled algae with a siliceous cell casing), and photosynthetic algal pigments in lake-sediment cores from Antarctica.

Project description

LAQUAN aims to contribute to the study of the Late Quaternary climate history of two contrasting Antarctic environments (Larsemann Hills and Alexander Island), by a multi-proxy, multi-site research of sediment cores from coastal lakes.


  • The further development and testing of molecular tools (based on a universal molecular taxonomic marker, the ribosomal RNA) for palaeo-environmental reconstruction.
  • The development of calibration datasets of diatoms and bio-molecules representing current environmental variability in Antarctic coastal regions. To this end we are able to identify communities that are typical for different ecological conditions (salinity, lake-water depth, etc).
  • The construction and validation of inference models and indices to infer environmental conditions based on fossil diatom assemblages. Therefore, we model the optimum of each species for climate dependent variables (e.g. salinity in lakes) using the abovementioned calibration dataset. The optima of the different species are then used to infer the climate dependent variable based on the species composition of the fossil assemblages. We thus deduce the conditions when past communities were growing on the basis of what we know about the present communities.
  • The application of these multiple proxies in the analysis of sediment cores from coastal lakes in Antarctica, that are particularly good repositories of signals from past communities.
  • The participation in the integrated analysis of multiple biological, physical and chemical proxies and in the formulation of regional reconstructions of climate change in Antarctica during the past 120,000 years. Our data are therefore integrated with the results of an International project SAGES in close collaboration with UK scientists (e.g., Dr. Dominic A. Hodgson, British Antarctic Survey).

Link with international programmes
LAQUAN is an integral part of two international research programmes, "Palaeolimnological investigations of coastal continental lakes in the Larsemann Hills" and "Millennial-scale History of the George VI Sound Ice Shelf and Palaeoenvironmental History of Alexander Island, Antarctic Peninsula".

Expected results
1) The project and its integration in international research programmes will be presented in a website that will be updated regularly to include a summary of major findings and the final results and will provide access to the database containing the calibration datasets and image databases.
2) We anticipate that the project will spawn primary research papers, which will appear in front-line journals and that these will be used in major review and synthesis papers. In addition, the project will present data to the scientific, political and public communities at the occasion of international and national meetings.
3) The image database will contain new digital images of lacustrine and marine microfossils, taxonomic descriptions and autoecological and distributional data. This database will provide an important tool to both palaeoecological and taxonomic research in polar environments.
4) The new rDNA sequences will be deposited in international databases.
5) The project will contribute to work tasks set by the Past Global Changes (PAGES) component of the International Geosphere Biosphere Programme (IGBP) and by projects of the Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research (SCAR) Global Change and Antarctica Programme (GLOCHANT). Specifically, it will contribute to PAGES Stream 1 (last 2000 years) and stream 2 (late Quaternary), and to the GLOCHANT projects (also adopted by PAGES): International Trans-Antarctic Scientific Expedition (ITASE), Antarctic Ice Margin Evolution (ANTIME)
Stream 1 (last 20 000 years), and Palaeoenvironments from Ice Cores (PICE).
6) Data from our major activities will be deposited with the PAGES International Palo-Data System at the World Data Centre-A for Palaeoclimatology (WDC-A) in Boulder, Colorado.
7) This project will contribute to the further development of the Belgian expertise in Antarctic research and to the realisation of the responsibilities and role of Belgium in the Antarctic Convention.
8) The development of new biological proxies to reconstruct climate-induced environmental changes in Antarctica will provide an important tool for future international research and is a distinguishing feature of Belgium’s role in this project.

Complementary resources about this scientific project


RUG Development of calibration dataset for lacustrine diatoms from Continental and Maritime Antarctica. The construction of inference models on the basis of the calibration datasets and on the basis of the calibration datasets constructed by ULg. The application of the transfer functions on sediment cores from the Larsemann Hills and Alexander Island. Integration of the biological (microfossils, molecular markers, pigments) and the sedimentological proxies in the reconstruction of climatic and environmental changes in the two Antarctic regions.
ULg Testing and development of molecular methodologies for the reconstruction of past environments. Construction of a calibration dataset of rDNA markers from continental and maritime Antarctica. Participation in the construction of inference models and the integration of the different proxies.

Contact information

Coordinator: Wim Vyverman
Universiteit Gent (RUG)
Protistology and Aquatic Ecology (PAE)
Krijgslaan 281 – S9
B-9000 Gent
Tel: +32 (0)9 264 85 01
Fax: +32 (0)9 264 85 99

Partner 2: Annick Wilmotte
Université de Liège (ULg)
Center for Protein Engineering (CIP)
Institute of Chemistry
Sart Tilman, B6
B-4000 Liège
Tel: +32 (0)4 366 38 56
Fax: +32 (0)4 366 33 64

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