Earth Simulation Laboratory officially opened

Watergezant Henk Ovink (rechts) doet officiƫle openingshandeling samen met decaan Wilco Hazeleger (links). Fotograaf: Robert Oosterbroek
Henk Ovink (right) and Wilco Hazeleger (left)

Thursday 3 October 2019 saw the festive opening of the Faculty of Geosciences' Earth Simulation Laboratory (ESL). This sustainable and innovative laboratory is a world-class establishment. It enables scientists to simulate processes from deep within the earth as well as on its surface, and to study these processes with an unparalleled degree of precision and in great detail. Through these simulations, they will be enhancing knowledge of natural disasters and thus contributing to the provision of solutions that will enable us to intervene in these processes and mitigate their effects in the future. The official opening ceremony was performed by Henk Ovink, the Netherlands' Special Envoy for International Water Affairs.

Opening Earth Simulation Laboratory. Fotograaf: Robert Oosterbroek
Chris Spiers

Dean of the Faculty of Geosciences Wilco Hazeleger hosted the ceremony and spoke about the unique laboratory with great pride. In an interview, President of the Executive Board Anton Pijpers expressed his ambition in terms of teaching and research: 'This lab is unique in the world and will enable us to facilitate top research in this field. The research centres who have the lab as their experimental base will have the most innovative, pioneering technology at their disposal.'


Opening Earth Simulation Laboratory. Fotograaf: Robert Oosterbroek
Ernst Willingshofer

Simulating debris and mud flows

With the touch of a button, Henk Ovink set in motion a large machine that made water and sediment come crashing down. This machine, also called 'the landslide', simulates debris and mud flows, thus enabling these to be studied and making it possible in future to arrive at a more accurate estimate of their scale and impact. Better forecasting or even prevention of disasters will also be possible.


Opening Earth Simulation Laboratory. Fotograaf: Robert Oosterbroek

Sustainable laboratory

Fiona van 't Hullenaar, Director of Corporate Real Estate & Campus, stressed the importance of sustainability: 'In my view, it's important for this laboratory not only to facilitate research, but above all to be sustainable in itself, thus contributing to Utrecht University's targets in this respect. We're finding a new use for an existing, solidly built building and adding modern, sustainable technologies to it, such as the climate facade and a connection to geothermal storage and solar panels. The lab has been awarded the BREEAM excellent certification. Moreover, this building will improve comfort for staff, for instance by making cut-outs in the thick concrete and introducing automatic blinds to allow more daylight to enter.' 


Opening Earth Simulation Laboratory. Fotograaf: Robert Oosterbroek

Researchers' presentations

Once the opening ceremony was complete, the attendees were able to attend presentations given in the labs by three eminent researchers: Prof. Christopher Spiers, Prof. Maarten Kleinhans and Dr Ernst Willingshofer. Spiers, for example, gave his audience a more detailed account of movement and fissures deep underground. He explained his ambition: 'The advantage this lab gives us as scientists is that we're exceptionally well placed to take our world-leading research into the future. This will enable us to perform new, pioneering research into the major issues facing society and our planet.'