About GWCM

  1. Introduction
  2. Goal
  3. List of subprojects
  4. Funding
  5. Partners

1. Introduction

One of the grand challenges in modern-day science is to forecast future hydrological conditions on Earth. Typical questions asked in this challenge are: how warm and dry/wet will it become, how fast will changes to water and ecosystems occur and which resources will be available to humankind? Projections on the future Earth can only be made with models that integrate our knowledge and understanding of all spheres on Earth (biosphere including humans, geosphere, cryosphere, atmosphere and hydrosphere including oceans) and that includes all interactions and feedbacks among the spheres.

However, forecasting efforts by the global change research community have been under considerable scrutiny by press, politics and the public at large, because of the inability to accurately quantify human-induced changes in the carbon, nutrient and water cycles. This can for an important part be attributed to the incomplete and inaccurate representation of these feedback mechanisms in the current generation of Earth system models.

Project leaders Marc Bierkens & Michiel van den Broeke interviewed: Utrecht University researchers are working on a global climate and water model (5/3/2014).

2. Goal

We propose to develop a novel interdisciplinary model infrastructure for forecasting future hydrological conditions on Earth that includes all feedbacks related to the hydrological cycle, and that will allow us to make the urgently needed breakthrough in accurate quantification of human-induced changes in water, carbon and nutrient cycling.

This is a highly ambitious, high-reward goal and requires intense collaboration and focusing to be successful and feasible. We will focus on the following key research question:

How will changes in the hydrological cycle govern future conditions on planet Earth?

Utrecht University (UU), through its conglomerate of leading groups on geophysical, biological and governance research, is in the unique position to answer this research question and subsequently utilise the predictions to explore and exploit mechanisms of biological adaptation and to address governance-related issues. To that end, we mobilise and integrate UU’s collective expertise by developing a common model infrastructure to explicitly simulate past, present and future feedbacks in the water, carbon and nutrient cycles. The proposed model infrastructure will lead to intensification of interactions between UU scientists and those of internationally renowned institutes, largely located in the Utrecht area: Deltares (water resources), TNO (air and water quality), KNMI (climate modelling), SRON (remote sensing), KWR (water quality and health) and PBL (integrated assessment and global change). Together with these institutes, UU already participates in a number of water-related EU framework projects and is increasingly successful in getting funds from the Climate-KIC program. With this model framework we aspire to:

  • quantify the role of water (vapour, liquid, ice) and its feedbacks in the climate system;
  • mechanistically link the global water, carbon and nutrient cycles and quantify their sensitivity to climate change;
  • explicitly quantify the effects of anthropogenic forcing on the global water cycle and ecosystems with inclusion of water, carbon and nutrient feedbacks;
  • provide  avenues for linking law and governance studies with climate, water and ecosystem services and so design science-based mitigation and adaptation strategies for global change studies;
  • obtain key information on water scarcity distribution and freshwater resource availability and flooding duration, extent and frequency and its impacts on vegetation.

We expect considerable spinoff, e.g. to guide experimental research on plant- environment interactions  (e.g. flooding tolerant plants), plant and microbial ecology, greenhouse gas production and to assess potential land use for agriculture, building, bio-energy and nature. As a result, upon execution of this program, UU scientists will be very well positioned to contribute to a multitude of international research programmes, e.g. IPCC assessments, Global Water System Project, and to apply for prestigious research grants (NWO, ERC) and to be the prime partner in collaborative research projects (Horizon 2020).

3. List of individual subprojects

Rianne Giesen
Global modelling of mountain glaciers and their impact on downstream water availability
Joyce Bosmans
Impacts of anthropogenic changes to the global water cycle on regional and global climate
Dewi Le Bars
Response of the Atlantic Ocean circulation due to Greenland ice sheet melting and ecosystem impact
José Mogollón
& Lauriane Vilmin
How will global biogeochemical cycles respond to climate-induced changes in the hydrological cycle?
Maarten Braakhekke
Global modelling of vegetation dynamics and feedbacks: linking carbon, water and nitrogen
Judith Sarneel
How will increased flooding impact vegetation and ecosystem processes that are coupled to climate?
Anoeska Buijze
How can society effectively react on changes in flood risks and fresh water availability to protect water and ecosystems and shift towards a sustainable society?
Meet the projects

4. Funding

This research project is carried out as part of the Sustainability strategic theme as defined by Utrecht University. More information about this theme is available in Dutch and in English.

5. Partners

See frontpage for the partners in this project.