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.
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:
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).
See frontpage for the partners in this project.