What are the advantages of this floating laboratory compared to the usual measurements from a boat?
Bouffard: Normally you take water samples and then you have quite a bit of stress. Because the samples have to get to the laboratory as quickly as possible so that the biological or chemical processes that you want to study are disturbed as little as possible. We don’t have that problem here: on LéXPLORE we can analyse and evaluate the samples on site.
Tofield-Pasche: Furthermore, the platform allows us to take continuous measurements. The measuring devices record around the clock and in all weathers. For example, we can investigate how various parameters change in the day-night cycle. Or what processes take place during a storm.
There are also floating research stations on other lakes. What makes LéXPLORE unique?
Bouffard: For one thing, the size of the lake. Many platforms are installed on smaller lakes. With LéXPLORE, we can study the processes on a large lake with strong waves and deep water, and which is also located in a densely populated region.
Tofield-Pasche: Another difference is certainly the infrastructure. Other platforms are usually much smaller or consist simply of several buoys with measurement instruments. LéXPLORE, on the other hand, is a real laboratory where 16 people can work at the same time and is equipped with various high-tech instruments.
Bouffard: Because so many different measurements happen at the same time on LéXPLORE, we can compare different processes with each other.
Bouffard: The echo transmitters record when fish pass by in the area of the platform. This fish presence can then be compared, for example, with the water temperature that was measured at that time. Such a combination of different observations opens up whole new possibilities for us to understand lakes better. LéXPLORE thus promotes multi-layered projects and brings together researchers from different disciplines in one laboratory – that’s simply fantastic and a great motivation for me personally. This communal, collaborative aspect is what makes LéXPLORE stand out.
What have been the biggest challenges so far?
Tofield-Pasche: First of all the project itself, that we were able to realise LéXPLORE at all. It took six years from the first discussions until the platform was on the water. There were always voices that said, “forget it, it won’t work”. The population and the sailing club of the neighbouring municipality of Pully were also critical of the project at the beginning. Overcoming this opposition and not getting discouraged was certainly a challenge.
Bouffard: I think Johny Wüest deserves most of the credit for that. Until recently, he was a member of the Eawag Directorate and is a professor at the EPFL. LéXPLORE was his idea - even if he would never claim the credit for himself. He initiated the project and doggedly pursued it.
Tofield-Pasche: Yes, absolutely. Johny Wüest was the driving force behind LéXPLORE. He got the right people on board, never lost his optimism and kept us all motivated. I’m glad that the platform was able to go into operation before his retirement in August.