7 February 2019

"In our research community, data sharing is the norm"

What path does a raindrop take from the moment it touches the ground until it reaches the sea? It is important to know where water is, but also where it isn’t. Hydrologist Niko Wanders devotes his research to droughts, and how they are influenced by people. The goal: to better predict droughts. Using extensive models, Niko is able to simulate the path of a single raindrop. However, to create these models, you need data. A lot of data.

Niko is an assistant professor of hydrological extremes at the Faculty of Geosciences. "At our department we focus on all phenomena that influence drought, such as rivers, groundwater levels and water shortages, worldwide. We look especially at the past fifty years, and we use this information to make predictions. These are simulated with hydrological models, which are based on collected data from all kinds of institutions from all over the world."

Niko Wanders (photos by Manon Bruininga)

Together we bring our research forward

"We use public data from all kinds of institutes for our research. Data is collected all over the world about rainfall, temperature, evaporation and much more. We use this data as input to build our models. In order to ensure that other researchers can build upon this data, we make these models and results public again. The sharing of data is therefore the norm throughout the global climate and hydrology community, because together we can bring our research forward."

Our data comes from all kinds of institutions from all over the world

Various data repositories are available for data sharing. Niko talks about DataverseNL, the open source data repository he likes to work with. Felix Weijdema, a subject specialist at Utrecht University Library, supports researchers with the publication of data via this repository. "The advantage of DataverseNL is that it is hosted in the Netherlands. Felix helped me describe my data and formulate suitable search terms. He looks at the data with the eyes of a layman. This results in a better description and thus better findability."

To simulate the path that a raindrop takes, a big pile of input data is needed: rainfall, height of the land, type of soil, you name it. Niko is not surprised by a dataset of several hundred gigabytes. "From all this data we create a new product, for example the amount of water discharge from a specific area, which we then share. Institutions such as Rijkswaterstaat can use this information in their water management. But we also want to publish our input data. Because we have to deal with such large volumes of data in our field, we sometimes have to divert to other solutions. Dataverse is less suitable for these quantities. In my case, I often use the Zenodo data repository."

Yellow grass

The value of his research was suddenly visible last summer, when the Netherlands faced extreme drought. The media knew how to find him, and he enjoyed speaking to them. "If your research suddenly becomes such a hot topic, it is your job as a scientist to show the public what we do, here at the university. To show them the relevance of our research" says Niko. "People only really think about drought when they see the grass turning yellow. I used that opportunity to explain what drought is, what causes drought and how climate change affects the drought in the Netherlands."

If your research suddenly becomes such a hot topic, it's your job as a scientist to show the public what we do, here at the university

His media performance has not gone unnoticed. At the beginning of January this year, Niko received the UU-Publi Prize for his contribution to the media in the past year. The Publi Prize allows the winner to make a video about his research. "In this video I would like to show you how drought arises and what the impact is."

Love to share data

You do not have to wait for Niko's video if you want to know more about his research. On 14 February, Niko will be present at the seminar of DataverseNL at the Love-to-share-data-event of DANS. "Here I will tell you about my experience with Dataverse, but also what we do in our department and what our global models look like. I really enjoy talking about my research, and especially about the link between science and society. That is also what appeals to me in my research. For the time being, I am still enjoying myself here!"

Support on data sharing

Do you want more information about sharing and publishing research data? Or could you use some help on this topic? Then contact Research Data Management Support.