Lake Bed Environments, Modern Sedimentation & The Glacial & Post-Glacial History Of Windermere, UK.

Start Date:
September 2010
End Date:


Lake Windermere is the largest freshwater lake in the English Lake District, measuring approximately 17km in length with a maximum width of 1.5km in the north.

This project was developed to investigate the glacial and post-glacial history of Lake Windermere and its lakebed environments, through geomorphological and habitat mapping.

How Was The Project First Developed?

The University of Southampton first collected high-resolution seismic data from glacial lake Windermere in 2007, as part of two PhD projects funded by the University of Southampton.

The data revealed a remarkable sequence stratigraphy preserved in the two basins of Windermere, and identified a complex sequence of glaciogenic landforms related to the retreat of the British and Irish Ice Sheet.

These two PhD projects revealed that the lake sediments of Windermere have a high preservation potential. It also showed that more needed to be done to understand and constrain the last 20,000 years of Windermere's evolution. To investigate further, a BUFI PhD project, funded by the University of Southampton and the British Geological Survey, was therefore developed to study the lakebed environments, modern sedimentation and glacial and post-glacial history of Windermere.

The project was made possible through PhD studentships form the BGS and NOC at the University of Southampton, datasets from the Environment Agency, NERC funding and project support from the Centre of Ecology & Hydrology.

Why Was The Project Developed?

Lacustrine environments are ideal environments for geological and geomorphological mapping, and often contain a comprehensive record of late-glacial and post-glacial sediments. Lacustrine sediments are often undisturbed by subaerial erosion and weathering and provide some of the most complete natural archives that record past environmental change. In addition, freshwater lakes provide an important habitat for a range of aquatic flora and fauna and represent important environments for habitat mapping.

High-resolution seismic data from Windermere has therefore revealed the high preservation potential of the lake sediments, and has demonstrated the potential for further scientific input.

How Does It Benefit MAREMAP?

It is the first example on MAREMAP of an onshore study based in a shallow water lacustrine environment, using several high-resolution datasets and techniques.

This project has generated a new landscape map of Windermere and its catchment, which constrains the active sedimentary processes and describes the underlying geomorphology and sedimentology.

One of the most important species within the lake is the nationally rare fish Arctic Charr (Salvelinus alpinus). Windermere represents the southern most extent of this fish globally, however it has recently shown a marked decline in population in the lake. This project therefore investigates the spawning ecology of Arctic Charr, and examines the recent sediment record of pollution in Windermere. It also interprets the glacial history of Windermere and past sedimentary processes.

The integrated approach used in this study demonstrates lacustrine environments can be useful environments for glacial geomorphological mapping. It can supplement studies of the marine environment, particularly in reconstruction of the behaviour of the British and Irish Ice Sheet through the Last Glacial cycle. In addition, this collaborative project also demonstrates the wealth of information that can be obtained by geological and geophysical dataset integration within a lacustrine setting, ranging from glacial geomorphological mapping to sediment microanalysis and habitat mapping.

What's next

As part of the NERC Impact Assessment project, a workshop will take place in May 2014 at Windermere, to communicate the key findings and research outputs of the project. The focus of future research on Lake Windemere will also be discussed.

In addition, the workshop aims to investigate the most effective channels to transfer knowledge and generate new interaction.

The workshop will include representatives from the University of Southampton, British Geological Survey, Centre of Ecology & Hydrology, Freshwater Biological Association, Environment Agency, Lake District National Park Authority, National Trust, Natural England, South Lakeland District Council, Windermere Reflections and South Cumbria Rivers Trust, as well as other relevant bodies.

Other ongoing projects include formation of a complete GIS database, which will contain all data and supplementary material in an accessible form.

If you would like to know more about this project, or to gain access to its outputs, please get in touch.

Further information can also be found on the University of Southampton Geology & Geophysics Blog.