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

Published on
February 20, 2023

Deltas and coastal plains are attractive places to live: fertile, flat and accessible from the sea. However, these areas are also vulnerable to climate change and sea level rise. To better predict how deltas develop, thorough knowledge of biogeomorphology - how organisms, currents, waves and water and sand runoff combine to form the delta landscape - is needed. It was announced on 16 February 2023 that Delta-ENIGMA, a project focusing on this formation of the delta landscape, is one of the projects that will be funded from the NWO Large-Scale Science Infrastructure (GWI) call. The project will last 10 years and will receive 16 million euros for this purpose.

The project is a collaboration between Utrecht University, TU Delft, University of Twente, Wageningen University & Research (WUR), NIOZ, Deltares and TNO. Biogeomorphology is central to Delta-ENIGMA. The program provides infrastructure to intensively measure and experimentally study the Dutch Delta. This will allow better prediction of the future and 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 to decades, mainly because our knowledge of the interaction between physical and ecological processes in the formation of deltas is insufficient," says Gerben Ruessink, Delta-ENIGMA project leader and professor at Utrecht University.

Open data and labs

Over the 10 years of the project, the project is building a database of measurements freely available to scientists, policymakers and delta managers. Professor Ton Hoitink, project leader from WUR, says, "Delta-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. The Kraijenhoff van de Leur Laboratory for Water and Sediment Dynamics at WUR will be used among others."

Dutch contribution to European research infrastructure

The grant will be used to purchase specialised equipment that will, for example, allow the effects of various interventions on the Dutch delta to be better estimated. Examples include drones and 3D laser scanners, as well as the construction and use of labs and lab facilities. Delta-Enigma is thereby making a Dutch contribution to the European research infrastructure for river-sea systems, DANUBIUS-RI.

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Large-scale scientific infrastructure is essential for Dutch science. It may involve highly specialized equipment, such as large telescopes, high field magnets or advanced sensors and measurement networks necessary for biological and earth science research. But they can also be "virtual" facilities, such as large databases, scientific computer networks, or data and sample collections. "Investments in large-scale infrastructure contribute to the international position of the Netherlands as a country of knowledge. Science and research cannot do without the right scientific infrastructure", said Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf (OCW).