Field report: Elbe Expedition with the ALDEBARAN

In this post, Alina Mees talks about her field trip with the ALDEBARAN on the river Elbe. During her stay, she collected sediment samples to analyse microorganism communities and their subsequent methane gas production.

“My expedition across the Elbe, which I carried out as part of my bachelor’s thesis supervised by Dr. Mirco Bundschuh, lasted 10 days. We wanted to investigate the influence of pollution on microbial activity in the Elbe and thus on climate change.

The ALDEBARAN, a media and research vessel that is now 30 years old, is equipped with a small laboratory with various instruments, as well as media and navigation units. The “Bundesverband Meeresmüll” wants to give scientists a voice and mediate between society and science. With a crew of four people, including two scientists, a skipper and a cameraman, we received daily visitors from politics and television and navigated between two to three sampling sites. We lived and cooked together and ended up spending our evening together on the deck of the ALDEBARAN (Pictures 1 – 4).

Picture 1: The boat – ALDEBARAN in front of the Elbphilharmonie 
Picture 2: Alina Mees und M. Sc. Moritz Kielmann from the HAW Hamburg who quantified microplastics and associated pollutants in the sediments of the Elbe.  
Picture 3: Sediment sampling in the port of Schnackenburg 
Picture 4:Sediment sampling in the port of Schnackenburg 

A total of six research projects were carried out on the “Elbe Expedition”. The aim was to get a comprehensive picture of the state of the Elbe. Regular monitoring of the Elbe is important, as it is considered one of the dirtiest rivers in Europe. However, with reduced inputs of heavy metals and other pollutants from the 1990s onwards, water quality has gradually improved due to the construction of wastewater treatment plants. Nevertheless, high levels of pollutants can still be measured in the river’s sediments. These contaminated sites can be stirred up and released again, for instance, during flood events or the deepening of the Elbe near Hamburg. In addition, pesticides and fertilizers are still being introduced by agriculture.

We were particularly affected by the low water level of the Elbe. After two times running aground on a sandbank, we feared we would have to abandon the expedition. However, the Wasser- und Schifffahrtsamt was able to guide us through the low water.

The main goal of our investigation is to examine microorganism communities in the Elbe. Specifically, quantifying their conversion of carbon into methane along the river’s course. In addition to the conversion of carbon, the community of microorganisms will also be investigated via metabarcoding of the 16S rRNA gene by Dr. Sabine Filker from the University of Kaiserslautern. These data will be evaluated together with the findings from other projects in order to identify environmental factors that have an influence on the composition of the microbial community and thus on methane production. The sediments were collected and will be analyzed in the laboratory for climate gas production..Characterizing methane gas production and their interaction between microorganisms and environmental pollution will be a central step forward for our understanding of these critical processes that affect climate change. “

Additional pictures and videos can be found on the Instagram page bv_meeresmuell and on the YouTube channel ALDEBARAN Hamburg.

Alina Mees is a student of the Bachelor of Environmental Sciences at the University of Landau and engaged in this project under supervision from Jun-Prof. Dr. Mirco Bundschuh from the working group Functional Aquatic Ecotoxicology.