16 million to keep the Dutch delta livable - even as it changes

News - 24 February 2023 - Webredactie

Deltas and coastal plains are attractive places to live: fertile, flat, and open to the sea. These lowlands are, however, also vulnerable to climate change and sea-level rise. To better predict how deltas develop in the future, a thorough understanding is needed of biogeomorphology- how organisms, currents, waves, water, and sand discharge shape the delta-landscape. It was announced today that Δ-ENIGMA, a project focusing on this formation of the delta landscape, is one of the projects that will be funded from the National Roadmap for Large-Scale Research Infrastructure (LSRI) call of the Dutch Research Counsil (NWO). 

The project will receive 16 million euros and is a collaboration between Utrecht University, TU Delft, University of Twente, Wageningen University and Research, NIOZ, Deltares and TNO. Biogeomorphology lies at the heart of Δ-ENIGMA, which provides infrastructure for intensive observational and experimental research of the Dutch Delta. This will improve the ability to predict future development and will keep the Dutch Delta livable, even as it changes.

"We do not yet have the models to accurately predict changes in deltas in the coming years or decades, mainly because our knowledge of the interaction between physical and ecological processes in the formation of deltas is insufficient," says Gerben Ruessink, project leader of Δ-ENIGMA and professor at Utrecht University.

Dutch contribution to European research infrastructure

Using specialised equipment, it will soon be possible to better assess the effects of various interventions on the Dutch Delta. For example by drones and 3D laser scanners, but also the construction and use of labs and lab facilities. "We are thereby making a Dutch contribution to the European research infrastructure for river-sea-systems, DANUBIUS-RI," Ruessink says.

Building with Nature

The data that ∆-ENIGMA will provide over the next ten years is crucial for the development of so-called Nature-Based Solutions for climate adaptation. The Sand Motor on the Delfland coast is an iconic example of this approach. Stefan Aarninkhof, professor Coastal Engineering and co-applicant of ∆-ENIGMA on behalf of TU Delft: "We need detailed understanding of natural processes for design and engineering of innovative solutions in river-sea-systems, based on Building with Nature. Together with models to predict the effect of interventions, this is part of the core of our research domain."

With the data and knowledge that ∆-ENIGMA will give us, we can devise new solutions that contribute to a safe and habitable delta, Aarninkhof states. "Every grain of sand or silt we manage to retain in the delta will help it grow naturally along with sea level rise." Besides the natural formation of the delta landscape, researchers are also looking at the social component involved in forming deltas: the complex field of stakeholders and their interests. Expertise in this area is contributed by researcher Jill Slinger and the Gamelab.

Open data and labs

Over the ten years, the project will build a database of measurements freely available to scientists, policymakers and delta managers. "∆-ENIGMA will strengthen national and international cooperation because the data collected will be open and FAIR and the laboratory facilities will be accessible to others," Ruessink said.

Photo: ESA


Large-scale Research Infrastructure (LRI) is essential for the position of Dutch science. For example highly specialized devices, such as large telescopes, high field magnets or advanced sensors and measuring networks necessary for biological and earth sciences research. But also for 'virtual' facilities, such as extensive databases, scientific computer networks, or for data and sample collections. "Investments in large-scale infrastructure contribute to the international position of the Netherlands as a knowledge country. Science and research cannot do without the right scientific infrastructure," says Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf.