Deltas and coastal plains are attractive places to live: fertile, flat, open to the sea. These lowlands are, however, also vulnerable to climate change and sea level rise. To better predict how deltas will develop in the future we need a thorough understanding of biogeomorphology – how organisms, currents, waves, water and sediment together shape the delta landscape. It was announced today that Δ-ENIGMA, a project that focuses on this shaping of the delta landscape, is one of the projects to be funded from the NWO Large-scale Research Infrastructure (LSRI) call. The project will have a duration of ten years and will receive 16 million euros in funding.
The project is a partnership between Utrecht University, Delft University of Technology, the University of Twente, Wageningen University, NIOZ, Deltares and TNO. Biogeomorphology is at the heart of Δ-ENIGMA. The programme provides infrastructure for measuring the Dutch Delta intensively and study it experimentally. This makes it possible to better predict the future and ensures that the Dutch Delta remains livable, even as it changes. In this initiative, the University of Twente is contributing to the observation network along the sandy coast and in the salt marshes.
“Deltas are not passive landscapes that simply get submerged with rising sea level and more extreme weather conditions”, says Kathelijne Wijnberg, project manager of the coastal observation section and professor of coastal systems at the department of Civil Engineering and Management. “Outside of the dykes there is a constant interchange of sand and silt between the water and the land, with vegetation playing an important role as a trapper of sediment. This national collaboration is crucial in enabling us to get a better understanding of this complex process of natural growth potential of coastal dunes and salt marshes.”
In the ten years that the project will run, the project will create a database of measurements that is freely available to researchers, policy makers and delta managers. ∆-ENIGMA will strengthen the national and international collaboration because the collected data will be open and FAIR and the laboratory facilities will be accessible to others. To that end, a small wind tunnel facility will become available at the University of Twente, allowing for controlled measurement of wind-driven transport of moist sand, among other things.
“With this subsidy we can purchase specialist equipment for purposes such as better estimating the effects of various alterations on the Dutch Delta.” These include drones and 3D laser scanners, as well as the construction of labs and lab facilities. “We will be making a Dutch contribution to the European research infrastructure for river-sea systems, DANUBIUS-RI.”
Large-scale research infrastructure is essential for science in the Netherlands. It might involve very specialist equipment like large telescopes, high field magnets or advanced sensors and measurement networks, which are needed for biological and earth science research. And it could also involve ‘virtual' facilities such as extensive data banks, scientific computer networks or data and sample collections. “Investments in large-scale research infrastructure contribute to the international position of the Netherlands as a knowledge economy. Science and research cannot do without the right scientific infrastructure,” says Education Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf.