Research Projects

Research Projects

The most important European funded Research Projects

SCHeMA is a European project funded by the European Community under the 7th Framework Programme.

SCHeMA aims at providing an open and modular sensing solution for in situ high resolution mapping of a range of anthropogenic and natural chemical compounds that may have feedback (synergic) interaction: toxic and/or essential Hg, Cd, Pb, As and Cu trace metal species; nitrate, nitrite, and phosphate nutrients; species relevant to the carbon cycle; volatile organic compounds; potentially toxic algae species and toxins.

The project was launched on 1st October 2013 and will last 48 months.
Coordination is ensured by Dr Mary-Lou Tercier-Waeber from CABE University of Geneva.

For more information, please go to: SCHEMA Project

SCHeMA – General:

SCHeMA – Sensors:

SCHeMA – Integrated System and Data Portal:

SCHeMA – Field Trials:

SCHeMA – Summer School:

SCHeMA – Demonstration:

COMMON SENSE is a European project funded by the European Community under the 7th Framework Programme.

COMMON SENSE is a project that supports the implementation of European Union marine policies such as the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) and the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).
The project has been designed to directly respond to requests for integrated and effective data acquisition systems, by developing innovative sensors that will contribute to our understanding of how the marine environment functions.

The project was launched on 1st November 2013 and will last 40 months. COMMON SENSE is coordinated by the Leitat Technological Centre, Spain and its consortium brings together 15 partners from seven different countries, encompassing a wide range of technical expertise and know-how in the marine monitoring area.

For more information, please go to: COMMON SENSE Project

HighTempProbe is a European project co-funded by the European Communities, France and Italy, under the Eurostars Programme.
It aims at developing a multi-parameter geochemical probe for high temperature groundwater in-situ measurements (up to 105°C).

The project was launched on July 1st, 2011 and will last 2 years. Coordination is ensured by Jean-Paul Crabeil, from Flodim.

Voltammetric Autonomous Measuring Probes for trace metals in the water column (500 m, max depth) and at water-sediment interfaces (6000 m, max depth)

A project funded by the European Commission MAST Programme (MAS3-CT950033).



Brief description of research project:
In this project two systems will be built for the autonomous measurement of trace metal concentration in the water column and at the water-sediment interface. The two systems are based on voltammetric microelectrode arrays, so that in the two cases, the development of the sensor and voltammeter will be similar. The characteristics and innovative aspects of the two systems are the following.

Voltammetric probe for the water column:
The probe will be usable in the water column, down to 500m, and controlled either by an operator from a ship, or automatically by computer, when attached to a buoy. The system will have an autonomy of 1-2 weeks, and will be able to transmit automatically the data to the land station by radio, telephone or satellite communication. It will be programmable to determine concentration profiles between 0-500 m, routinely in conditions chosen by the user (time period, depth resolution, etc.). Cu(II), Pb(II), Cd(II) and Zn(II) will be measured with a sensitivity of less than 100 pM. Possible extension to the analysis of Mn(II) and Fe(II) are foreseen. The probe will allow doing metal speciation: it determines specifically the “truly dissolved” fraction of the trace metals (i.e. metal species smaller than ca 3 nm), directly in situ, without any sample handling, thus minimizing methodological artefacts. Additional determination of the total metal concentration allows to get the colloidal + particulate metal fraction by difference. Emphasis will be put on the development of cheap and reliable microelectrode arrays, built by new microtechnology. Recent developments will be used combining mercury film Ir based microelectrodes, in a special antifouling gel, providing high sensitivity and long-term stability of the sensor.

Water-Sediment interface microprofiler:
A system will be built to determine concentration profiles of Pb(II), Cd(II) and Mn(II) (possibly also Cu(II) and Fe(II)) at the water-sediment interface, with submillimeter resolution. Microelectrode arrays with antifouling gel, similar to those for the water column will be used, but with individually addressable electrodes. The voltammetric probe and sensors will be placed on a lander already developed in the EUREKA EU-408 BIMS project. Measurements will be possible down to 6000m. Voltammetric data acquisition and computer control of the probe at depth will be possible. Communication and control of the probe will also be possible either by cable (at shallow depths) or by acoustic telemetry. As for the water column probe, the truly dissolved (i.e. the mobile) fraction of metals will be measured. A multipotentiostat and multiplexer will be combined to record the concentration profiles of 64 microelectrodes over a depth of 1 cm with a resolution of 100-200mm, without moving the electrode array in the sediment. For concentration profile measurements over larger depth, a micromanipulator will be used to move the electrode array vertically.The two systems will be the first existing probes for the determination in situ, in real time, of trace metal concentration in the water column and at the water-sediment interface. They will be based on a number of advanced technologies, and will include several scientific and analytical innovative aspects. These developments will be made feasible thanks to the well-integrated complementary expertises of the four partners, namely: technology of in situ systems (IDRONAUT), microtechnologies applied to microsensors (IMT), analytical and physical-chemistry of aquatic systems (CABE), chemical oceanography (AMK).


In-Situ Monitoring of Trace metal specification in Estuaries and Coastal zones in relation with the biogeochemical processes

IMTEC (EVK3-CT-2000-00036).

Coastal ecosystems are threatened by anthropogenic activities and in particular by chemical pollution. Assessment of the impact of chemical pollutants are presently very difficult, because their speciation, i.e. the distribution of the various chemical forms of a given compound, cannot be determined accurately enough or at a sufficiently high time frequency. Development of the novel Multi Physical-Chemical Profiler (MPCP) will provide an unique analytical tool allowing automated trace metal speciation measurements coupled to master variables. Real-time monitoring, as well as detailed temporal/spatial evolution of the distribution of chemical species, will enable us to develop much better predictive models based on biogeochemical processes, to evaluate the impact of human activity on the ecosystem, and therefore to optimise industrial/social developments. The MPCP will also be applicable as early warning system in response of discharge events.

The overall objective is to develop an automated real-time, in-situ monitoring buoy supported Multi Physical-Chemical Profiler (MPCP) for dissolved trace metal measurements coupled to master variables, in estuarine and coastal ecosystems. For this purpose an existing trace metal monitoring package will be improved to allow multi-elemental low level monitoring of total concentrations and speciation of trace metals, simultaneously with master variables. Furthermore, the MPCP will be extensively deployed for pollution monitoring and corresponding biogeochemical studies in three complementary coastal ecosystems which are subject to anthropogenic pollution inputs. The long-term objective is for end-users (research institutions, water quality regulatory organisations and industry) to apply the MPCP developed in this project in estuarine and coastal water systems of the European Union, for biogeochemical studies, monitoring of trace metals and evaluation of their ecological impact.

The MPCP will be based on the VIP System developed during a MAST-III project and successfully applied in marine and freshwater environments. An important analytical development will form the incorporation into the monitor of the measurements of free metal ions and total metal concentrations. The ability to determine metal speciation in coastal waters will provide important information on the bioavailability of trace metals, and hence their real impacts on organisms and ecosystems. Another objective is to broaden the field of application of the MPCP to other transition metals, by incorporation of a chemical preconcentration stage coupled with flow injection analysis. In order to allow for a thorough environmental interpretation and rapid pollution warning, probes for the measurements of conductivity, temperature, depth, pH, dissolved oxygen, fluorescence and turbidity will also be incorporated, to provide a single instrument package which can be controlled from a land station via cellular phone.

Field testing will take place in 3 coastal ecosystems with different characteristics, i.e:

  • Fjord systems in west Sweden, characterised by small tidal range and influenced by anthropogenic inputs.
  • Macro-tidal estuaries in south west England, characterised by strong variations in water flow and turbidity and subject to enhanced trace metal inputs.
  • The Po estuary and its coastal plume, characterised by low tidal range and important pollution inputs.

The field campaigns are aimed at improving:

  • The analytical developments of the monitoring package for application needs.
  • Harmonisation of fieldwork and analytical techniques to lead to an improved compatibility of EU laboratory data.
  • The amount of environmental data for the three polluted areas.
  • Our understanding of the trace metal behaviour in the coastal ecosystems.
  • The capability of coastal managers to assess and predict the risks of contaminant inputs on ecosystems.

More information about the project can be found on the “Community Research & Development Information Service”.


Cyanobacteria attack rocks: control and preventive strategies to avoid damage caused by cyanobateria and associated microorganism in roman hypogean monuments

CATS (EVK4-CT2000-00028).

Work description
Roman hypogea, and the works of art that they contain, need to be protected against the biodeteriorative action of microorganisms developing on rock surfaces. The wide distribution of these archaeological remains in Southern Europe, and their cultural, artistic and religious importance, emphasises the potential social impact that biological damage can wreak on these monuments. Furthermore, the similarity of their habitat to that of other natural and man-made hypogea (show caves, subterranean churches and historical buildings), make them one of the best candidates in which to develop and apply innovative approaches to sustainable management. In these environments the abundance of nutrients in the lithic substrata, the input of compounds from circulating air and percolating waters, and the high humidity combined with the presence of artificial illumination, provide a suitable niche for those photosynthetic microorganisms that can make use of the spectral emission of lamps. The continual influx of visitors can, in itself, cause significant climatic changes, by providing a source of heat and of CO2. Cyanobacteria, thanks to their peculiar ability to adapt to extremely low photon flux densities and to acclimate to a variety of spectral emissions, are the major organisms responsible for biofilm formation on any rock surface (i.e. mortar, bricks, marble, frescoes, stuccoes, mosaics, etc.) exposed to light. At the same time, the availability of organic matter produced via cyanobacterial photosynthesis supports the growth of associated heterotrophic microorganisms (bacteria and fungi), the development of which contributes in a synergic manner to the establishment of the biofilm and to the increase of the biological activity on the colonised surface.
The problem of conservation, restoration and exploitation of Roman hypogea is part of the more general need to safeguard of the Cultural Heritage of Europe. This heritage has a significant influence on the economy of nations rich in archaeological remains, including most of the Mediterranean countries, and influences two main socio-economic factors: the significant amount of human and financial resources needed to preserve important archaeological sites and the improvement of both tourism and the quality of life through a sustainable management of the artistic patrimony of Europe.

Scientific objectives and approach
The proposal CATS focuses on the control, prevention and monitoring of cyanobacteria-dominated biofilms that cause damage to rock surfaces in Roman hypogea. It develops and integrates physical and biotechnological methods intended to limit the growth of microorganisms on valuable archaeological surfaces, and applies analytical methods to monitor the presence and the extent of the microbial damage. The common effort of the multidisciplinary and integrative group of scientists, conservation managers and SMEs brings together expertise in areas such as petrology, geology, chemistry, biochemistry, microbiology, phycology, archaeology, art restoration and conservation, diagnostics and environmental technology. It has been described for other environments that the metabolic activity of cyanobacterial biofilms leads to the biotransformation and biodecay of substrata. In Roman hypogea, the mechanisms that cause severe damage mostly to calcareous substrata, and that are consequent to the development of phototrophic and heterotrophic microorganisms, still have to be understood. Accordingly, CATS will answer the following two major and essential questions in order subsequently to develop control and preventive strategies:

  • How does microbial activity alter the mineralogical, textural and geochemical features of rocks?
  • What conditions limiting growth of cyanobacteria can be safety applied in Roman hypogea?

To achieve these central objectives different types of microsensors will be developed. These will be used to quantify biologically induced variation of gases and ions on the colonised lithic substrata. Data on the petrological and geochemical characteristics of rocks and on structure, function and diversity of biofilms will be integrated with those obtained using microsensors in order to describe and model the damage of rock surfaces. This part of the project will end with the construction of a multiparametric portable device based on microsensors that will be produced as a new tool for microbial monitoring. In the other part of the project, a pilot study will be set up to investigate the possibility of using a new lighting system providing wavelengths poorly used by cyanobacterial photosynthesis. This will drastically decrease the growth of cyanobacteria and therefore the quantity of organic matter available to the associated heterotrophic populations. Subsequently, the new lighting system will be experimentally set up in situ in order to confirm the laboratory results. At the end of this part, the public response to the innovative strategies proposed will be tested and the benefit to cost ratio of a new illumination system in Roman hypogea will be evaluated. In addition to the physical approach, newly identified biomolecules related to iron metabolism and cell-to-cell signalling pathways will be checked for their ability to interfere with bacterial and, especially, cyanobacterial metabolism by removing factors indispensable to microbial development. The application of these environmental biotechnologies under laboratory conditions should provide a new method to control and prevent growth of phototrophic biofilms.

Scientific/Technical objectives and innovation
Specific objectives of the project are:

  • To characterise the geological, geo- and hydrochemical, and physical environment of rocks unaffected or colonised by cyanobacterial communities inside Roman hypogea, and to evaluate possible preferences of cyanobacteria and associated microorganisms for specific lithologies.
  • To describe the architecture and functioning of biofilms built by cyanobacteria and associated microorganisms on different types of lithic surfaces
  • To ascertain the most critical physical, chemical and biological factors that control colonisation of rock surfaces.
  • To assess and quantify the damage caused by cyanobacterial biofilms to different types of surface.
  • To develop new physical methods to control and prevent biofilm growth using wavelengths in the visible part of the light spectrum that are, at best, poorly used by photosynthesis.
  • To identify siderophores and cell-to-cell signalling biomolecules and experimentally to test their potential to interfere with biofilm development.
  • To develop an innovative monitoring method using a multiparametric microsensor device for the measurement of biogeochemical parameters on endangered rock surfaces.
  • To test the response and expectation of citizens to the innovative strategies proposed.

Metal concentrations in groundwater around disturbed and undisturbed massive sulfide deposits

  • R. Castroviejo, J. Samper & A. López – Universidad Politecnica de Madrid, Madrid, Spain.
  • F. Graziottin – Idronaut, Brugherio(Milan), Italy.
  • M-L. Tercier – CABE group, University of Geneva, Switzerland.
  • H.Pauwels, A. Lassin, J-C. Foucher & Y. Deschamps – BRGM, Orléans France.

A detailed chemical study of groundwater was carried out to elucidate the processes controlling the oxidation and dissolution of sulfide minerals at two massive sulfide deposits in the South Iberian Pyrite Belt: the disturbed La Zarza deposit and the undisturbed Masa Valverde deposit. Metal concentrations were determined by ICP-MS after filtration. Also in some cases, a voltammetric probe was used for in situ metal (Cu, Pb, Zn, Cd) detection where, according to the basic principles of voltammetry on microelectrodes, only the mobile fractions of the trace element are detected (i.e. free metal ions and small labile complexes a few nanometers in size). The results, confirmed by calculations performed with the EQ3/6 geochemical code, indicate an important enhancement of metal solubility through complexing with organic matter and/or adsorption onto colloids and/or small particles. Under very low redox conditions, the attained metal concentrations can be as much as several orders of magnitude greater than those expected from equilibrium with respect to sulfide minerals.

Chemical characteristics of groundwater around two massive sulphide deposits in an area of previous mining contamination, Iberian Pyrite Belt, Spain

  • Helene Pauwels, Yves Deschamps & Arnault Lassin – Centre Scientifique et Technique, BRGM Research Division, Orleans, France.
  • F. Graziottin – Idronaut, Brugherio(Milan), Italy.
  • Marie-Lou Tercier-Waeber – CABE, Department of Inorganic, Analytical and Applied Chemistry, University of Geneva Sciences II, Geneva, Switzerland.
  • Miguel Arenas – Inima S.A., Madrid, Spain.
  • Ricardo Castroviejo, Francisco-Javier Elorza – ETSI Minas, Universidad Politecnica de Madrid, Madrid, Spain.

A detailed chemical study of groundwater was carried out to elucidate the processes controlling the oxidation and dissolution of sulphide minerals at two massive sulphide deposits in the Iberian Pyrite Belt (IPB), i.e. the mined La Zarza deposit and the unmined Masa Valverde deposit. It was found that major-element compositions varied according to the hydrological regime, La Zarza being in a relatively high area with groundwater recharge (and disturbance due to the human factor) and Masa Valverde being in a relatively low area with groundwater discharge. The variations mainly concern pH, Eh, SO4 and Na concentrations. Metal concentrations were determined (a) by ICP-MS after filtration, and (b) in some cases by voltammetric measurement of Cu, Pb, Zn, Cd and Mn using the Voltammetric In situ Profiling (VIP) System, which allows detection of only the mobile fractions of trace elements (i.e., free metal ions and small labile complexes a few nanometers in size). If one compares the results obtained by each of the two methods, it would appear that the groundwater shows significant enhancement of metal solubility through complexing with organic matter and/or adsorption onto colloids and/or small particles. In areas of sulphide oxidation, however, this solubility enhancement decreases according to Cu > Zn>Cd>Pb. Under very low redox conditions, the attained metal concentrations can be several orders of magnitude (up to 108-109 for Cu and 102-103 for Pb) larger than those expected from equilibrium with respect to sulphide minerals as calculated with the EQ3NR geochemical code; Zn concentrations, however, are close to equilibrium with respect to sphalerite. The implication of these results is discussed with respect both to mineral exploration and to environmental issues.


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