The Executive Board of Wageningen University & Research has appointed Prof. Martine van der Ploeg as chair and professor of the Hydrology and Quantitative Water Management Group. She succeeds Prof. Albert van Dijk. The appointment is effective from 1 December 2022.
Van der Ploeg's research focuses on unravelling biophysical landscape processes, and connecting them to ecosystem functions. In doing so, she collaborates with various scientific disciplines to enable better use and protection of soil and water resources.
Predicting hydrological processes
Van der Ploeg: "The chair group has a unique perspective in the national and global academic setting when it comes to combining hydrology and environmental hydraulics. We aim at a fundamental understanding, and being able to predict hydrological processes in river basins, aquifers and deltas. This is important in sustainable water and sediment management, also considering climate change and changes in land use."
It is essential to understand the distribution of water among the different components of terrestrial ecosystems. This distribution affects the amount of precipitation that infiltrates into the soil, and water runoff into streams and rivers, which also carries sediment and pollutants. Extremes in the distribution of water are expected to occur more frequently in the coming decades. This can cause floods like the one in Limburg in 2021, and droughts like we experienced last summer.
Rapid global changes
Models describing hydrological processes are continuously improving. They are of great importance in supporting soil and water management. The volume of both available data and newly collected data is helpful, as are new techniques such as machine learning. Van der Ploeg: "We have to deal with rapid global changes. This increases the complexity of challenges around the modelling of hydrological processes and ecosystem resilience. In particular when looking at the interactions in the biosphere and land-atmosphere. At the same time, data-based methods (such as machine learning) won’t be better than the data they use. For future models we may have to think of situations far beyond the limits of our current imagination."
Global change also plays a role in education. Not only relating to climate or environment, but also on a socio-economic level. Van der Ploeg: "This will challenge teachers how to best prepare students for an uncertain future, in which we cannot easily predict next year’s weather or economy. It calls for a proper combination of disciplinary knowledge and development of skills, so that students learn to understand both the world around them, and the world within themselves."
Research on antifreeze in groundwater
Van der Ploeg enrolled in Soil, Water and Atmosphere in Wageningen. She was eager to study earth sciences, and this programme appealed to her because of its technical side combined with being outdoors. She put this combination to the benefit during two graduation fieldwork studies on Spitsbergen and in Het Binnenveld (near Wageningen), as well as an internship including fieldwork in Ireland. During her PhD, Van der Ploeg worked on the development of a new instrument for better measuring of water in dry and saline soils. She tested it in the USA as a visiting researcher at the USDA-ARS Salinity Laboratory in Riverside (California). After her PhD, she carried out postdoc research on antifreeze leaking into groundwater at Gardermoen Airport (Norway). She started a tenure track at Wageningen University & Research in 2010.