New Zealand Q&A: Jake Vander Zanden Talks Dead Zones, Cows & Haka Dances

Earlier this year, Jake Vander Zanden rented his house out in Madison, packed his things, and headed with his family for a sabbatical in New Zealand.  Under the auspices of a Fulbright scholarship, Jake is at the University of Waikato, studying ‘dead zones’ in lakes, where pollution reduces oxygen making it impossible for parts of lakes to support life.

Raglan, New Zealand.
Raglan, New Zealand.

He is also, apparently, learning to surf! Jake recently checked in with the folks at Fulbright and sent home this Q&A from the small, coastal town of Raglan. Until we see you this fall, Jake, good luck on the surf lessons!
Q: Tell us about your research here in New Zealand
New Zealand is proving balmier than one of Jake's prior (and more northerly) trips!
New Zealand is proving balmier than one of Jake’s prior (and more northerly) trips!

JVZ: I’m looking at the phenomenon of lake ‘dead zones’. Lakes that in the past had a lot of oxygen in the bottom waters can lose that oxygen due to nutrient pollution – often from human activity – then they become an environment that can’t support life. You lose a lot of the value that would come from a lake, such as fisheries, when you have dead zones.
It seems like once you create dead zones they are difficult to turn back. Even if you remove nutrients and improve conditions, the healthy ecosystem never returns. That’s really worrisome because it is so difficult to fix the problem. Another consideration is that when you create a dead zone, the plant nutrient phosphorus is released from the lake sediments, which further contributes to the pollution problem.
I have found that people in New Zealand are very interested in water quality, but mostly in a very general sense. There is a lot of recognition that there are severe water quality challenges. People seem concerned about the large expansion of dairy farming in the last ten to twenty years and what that has meant for water quality, in terms of both ground water and surface waters. It’s interesting to compare the different perspectives about that from the US and New Zealand. The decisions farmers make on the land is often the driver of water quality. Continue reading –>