Skip to main navigationSkip to main content
The University of Southampton
Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton

Research project: Windermere Research

Currently Active: 

The University of Southampton has over 15 years of experience in investigating and analysing the lake bed and sub-surface sediments of Windermere, England’s largest natural lake. NERC funded research, much of it in collaboration with BGS, has facilitated the acquisition and analysis of several high resolution data sets that provide key insights into the lake bed environments, the subsurface structures and the sedimentary record. This has enabled the reconstruction of the history of environmental change over the last 20,000 years ranging from the last deglaciation of the Lake District through to anthropogenically driven lake pollution and eutrophication.

Research by the University of Southampton and partners has been driven by five collaboratively supervised PhD investigations and associated complementary Masters Projects. Initial research targeted the subsurface sediment structure. These investigations, complemented by subsequent work on the lake floor bathymetry, environments and surface sediments, paved the way for a comprehensive coring program designed to recover the past 20,000 years history of lake evolution. This spans a period from the last Glacial Maximum via the climatically highly variable deglaciation, through the Holocene to the most recent period of increased human impact on the lake. Publication of the results of these studies is ongoing, as is monitoring of the most recent sedimentary records of lake pollution and eutrophication.

Figure 1 (Source: H Miller)


Seismic Surveys
University of Southampton surveys 2007-2008. Over 150 km of high resolution multichannel seismic reflection profiles along intersecting lines were taken with a Boomer source and 60 m 60 channel streamer covering the entire lake basin. These were augmented by localised 3D seismic imaging.

BGS survey 2010 on R/V White Ribbon, 100% coverage to 5m water depth

Sediment samples
74 samples from 2011, 29 samples from 2012. Analysis of sub-samples: grain size analysis, scanning electron microscopy, XRF and total organic carbon.

Underwater Video
BGS and CEH ROV's used to investigate lake bed environments

Sediment Coring
8 piston cores (max length 10m) and 9 gravity cores (max length 2m) were acquired in 2012. Cores run through MSCL, split and logged. Further analysis using ITRAX, XRF, 137Cs and 210Pb dating. The piston cores have also been dated by radiocarbon and undergone palaeomagnetic analysis. Additional short gravity cores from reference locations in the North and South Basins, also recovering the sediment-water interface, were taken in 2014, 2018 and 2019. The cores have been resin-embedded and sediment fabrics and mineralogy analysed by optical microscopy and Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) including energy dispersive X-ray microanalysis.


Figure 2 (Source: Avery et al, 2019)
Figure 3. Source: H.Miller
Figure 4. Source: H. Miller

Lakebed and Sediments

The morphology of the lake bed is divided into several sub-basins, characterised by a number of ridges, steps, exposed bedrock, plateaus and isolated topographic highs. These glacial geomorphological features relate to the most recent Devensian glaciation. A number of submerged mass movements and features formed by human activities represent currently active sedimentary processes. Several lake bed environments have been identified, with a fine detrital mud covering >95% of the lake bed. The fine detrital mud represents most recent Holocene sedimentation derived from the catchment.

Figure 5

Analysis of sediments from the last 200 years shows that Windermere underwent eutrophication due to increased human activity, leading to increased concentrations of potentially toxic elements in the lake sediment including lead, mercury and arsenic. Lake remediation schemes, including improvements in sewage treatment, have led to a partial recovery, but current climatic warming trends are contributing to renewed concentrations of toxic elements in the surface sediments (Figure 4 and Fielding et al., 2020).


NERC Windermere Research Impact Acceleration Meeting

The NERC Impact Acceleration project aims to increase impact of the research in Windermere by communicating key research outputs to stakeholders outside the scientific community, strengthening the interaction between NERC funded science and the user community.

As part of this project, a workshop on increasing the impact of recent research in Windermere was held in May 2014 at the Freshwater Biological Association in Far Sawrey, Windermere. The workshop aimed to present the results of recent research on the lake, discuss its potential impact and consider the focus of future research.

Helen Miller, workshop talk
Helen Miller, workshop talk
Workshop Group Photo
Workshop Group Photo







The workshop was well attended, with 30 delegates from 12 different organisations including the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, the British Geological Survey, the Environment Agency, the Freshwater Biological Association, the Lake District National Park Authority, the National Trust, Natural England, South Lakeland District Council and United Utilities. Following a series of oral presentations (detailed below), Break-Out groups in the afternoon led to lively discussions about how to increase impact and what should be the focus for potential future research.

A Workshop Report can be downloaded below.


Jon Bull (NOCS/University of Southampton): Welcome
Helen Miller (NOCS/University of Southampton): Lake bed environments, modern sedimentation and the glacial and post-glacial history of Windermere, UK
Alan Kemp (NOCS/University of Southampton): Ongoing PhD research on Windermere.
Ian Winfield (Centre for Ecology & Hydrology): From the historical to the present: 70 years of monitoring and understanding the physics, nutrients, plants and animals of Windermere.
Liz Davey (Windermere Reflections): Inspiring communities for lasting catchment benefits.
Gary Rushworth (Freshwater Biological Association): Long-term changes (>70 years) in Windermere: littoral macroinvertebrates, oral history of Windermere, and Restore the Shore projects.
Tom Bradwell (British Geological Survey): Reconstructing ice sheet behaviour in Cumbria from sediments and landforms.
Pete Langdon (University of Southampton): TEWLS (Toolbox for Early Warnings signals in Lake Systems)

Some of the above presentations can be downloaded below

For further details of the workshop, see:

In addition to the workshop, a case study on recent research in Windermere is also available on the Marine Environmental Mapping Programme (MAREMAP) website. This case study is the first example on MAREMAP of an onshore study based in a shallow water lacustrine environment. For more details, see:

The multibeam bathymetry data from Windermere (collected by The University of Southampton and the British Geological Survey) is also available for download from Eprints ( and the UKHO.

We are also working with several partners, including The National Trust, Countryscape and Windermere Reflections to develop a series of Interpretation Boards along the western shore of Windermere, which communicate the key findings of our research and generate interest in the lake. This will aid lake management and will form part of a multidisciplinary project which amplifies the impact of NERC science.

Related Pages

Project Pages:


PhDs and Other Opportunities


Key Publications

Share this research project Share this on Facebook Share this on Twitter Share this on Weibo
Privacy Settings