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Benchmarking a slice of Africa; preserving biodiversity through science
Date:6/27/2011

Mountain gorillas and freshwater cichlids in the western branch of the East African rift valley depend on the same fragile surroundinga thriving ecosystem around Lake Kivu.

Natural hazards and a large refugee population around the lake that borders Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo have compromised the region's biodiversity and sustainability. Depletion of the highland forests for fuel use and subsistence farming has claimed wildlife habitat and degraded streams. Likewise, efforts by Rwanda and the Congo to extract methane at the bottom of the lake to produce needed electricity for the region are proceeding with only a partial understanding of the risk of catastrophic degassing from the interplay of natural events and human activities. In addition to the volcanic Virunga Mountains that dam the basin to the north are the numerous active fault lines in the region, which have the potential to set off catastrophic degassing of the lake's immense methane and carbon dioxide reserves.

Anthony Vodacek, a scientist specializing in remote sensing at Rochester Institute of Technology, is leading a two-year survey of the Lake Kivu system to collect scientific measurements for benchmarking hazards threatening the region's biodiversity. A $350,000 grant from the MacArthur Foundation is supporting the multidisciplinary effort.

"The overarching goal of our project is to understand the interplay and feedbacks between volcanism, faulting and biological processes and human activities on the Lake Kivu system over the past 5,000 to 10,000 years of volcanism, faulting and climate change," says Vodacek, a professor in RIT's Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science. "We also will establish a baseline for assessing future human-induced and tectonic-induced change in the Lake Kivu rift system."

The comprehensive approach to evaluating different aspects of the ecosystem hinges on the varied expertise of Vodacek's team. Seismologist and v
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Contact: Susan Gawlowicz
smguns@rit.edu
585-475-5061
Rochester Institute of Technology
Source:Eurekalert

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