In October, 2014, the NABIC Winter school took place in Cox´s Bazar as the kick-off event for a new Nansen centre in Bangladesh. Wageningen UR will also contribute to the education of this Nansen Centre. In the Winter school 29 graduate students from Bangladesh and India and 15 lecturers from Norway, Bangladesh, India and the Netherlands gathered for six days to learn about the ocean and coastal processes in the Bay of Bengal under the present and future climate conditions and their impact on society.
NABIC stands for ‘Nansen-Bangladesh International Centre for Coastal, Ocean and Climate Studies’. The Nansen Environmental and Remote Sensing Centre was established in 1986 as a non-profit research foundation affiliated with the University of Bergen, Norway. The Nansen Group already initiated research institutes in Russia, China, India and South Africa, and now the sixth was founded in Bangladesh. NABIC is a cooperation of the Nansen Centre in Bergen, the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies in Dhaka, and Wageningen UR.
The Bay of Bengal is characterized by a tropical climate and monsoon dominancy. Numerous rivers flow through India and Bangladesh into the bay, to bring in a large quantity of freshwater and billions of tons of suspended sediment, which influence the oceanographic and ecosystem dynamics of the Bay. Bangladesh is already impacted by cyclones, tidal surges and inland flooding and is likely to suffer severely from climate change and sea level rise.
The Winter school program comprised climatology, oceanography, and coastal management. Prof. Joseph from the Nansen Environmental Research Institute in India gave a very clear lecture on the Monsoon System of India and Bangladesh. Other lecturers addressed oceanography in the Indian Ocean, coastal environmental problems and challenges in Bangladesh, the marine ecosystem and fisheries of Bay of Bengal, cyclone-storm surges along the coast of Bangladesh, and impacts on Bangladeshi society from extreme meteorological and oceanographic events.
Judith Klostermann from Alterra Wageningen UR was invited to give a presentation about coastal defence in The Netherlands. Several historical paradigm shifts took place in the Dutch water management practices: from land reclamation, to making more space for water, and now also a shift from hard surfaces such as stone, concrete and asphalt to more flexible and nature-based coastal defence structures. A key concept in the present Dutch Delta program is adaptive delta management. Adaptive delta management leads to more integrated solutions, where different functions are realized in the same space, such as water safety, recreation and nature conservation. Such integrated solutions also require more participatory decision making processes. There was some discussion how relevant these paradigms are for Bangladesh. Bangladesh is three times the size of the Netherlands, but more densely populated with 164 million people in Bangladesh against 17 million in the Netherlands. Both countries are fertile delta areas built from sediment, and both countries are vulnerable to floods. These similarities were a reason for Dutch engineers to come to Bangladesh in the 1960’s and 70’s to build ‘polders’. The polders in Bangladesh are much younger than the Dutch ones, and have not had time yet to sink below sea level. But the big, still unanswered question is, how they can be protected against flooding when the sea level rises?
The 29 students worked in five thematic groups. They presented their work during the course and the combined products will result in a report with recommendations for future research. The working title of the report is: “Coastal and ocean processes in the Bay of Bengal in a changing climate, and their impacts on society”.