Twelve million for Dutch research into the European plates of the Earth’s crust

Certificate NWO Nationale Roadmap Grootschalige Wetenschappelijke Infrastructuur

The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) is providing funding to the tune of €12 million for the expansion of EPOS-NL, a cluster of major observatories, experimental laboratories and a digital infrastructure for research into the European plates of the Earth’s crust, from the kilometre scale to the micro level. Utrecht University is the coordinating centre for this infrastructure. Together with its partners, the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) and Delft University of Technology (TU Delft), Utrecht University contributes to the broader European Plate Observing System (EPOS), a project set up with the purpose of sharing research data on the European plates of the Earth’s crust across the various disciplines, in a quick and reliable way and via open access.

Europe has dozens of research institutes that conduct research based on various disciplines into the evolution and behaviour of the Earth’s crust. The European Plate Observing System (EPOS) is a project that falls within the scope of the European Horizon 2020 programme. It has a dual objective: apart from bringing various disciplines together to make data on the European plates of the Earth’s crust available in an integrated manner for science, industry and society, it facilitates access to specialist research facilities in countries in the EU.

Investigating drilling cores at the High Pressure and Temperature Lab, part of the EPOS infrastructure.

A single large infrastructure

“This subsidy allows us to integrate all the major geophysical facilities in the Netherlands into a single infrastructure,” explains Prof. Martyn Drury, project coordinator of EPOS-NL and earth scientist at Utrecht University. “We are currently developing two new projects. One of these is the KNMI seismic network, and the other is a data centre which we can use, for instance, to conduct research into geothermal applications at TU Delft and monitor earthquakes in Groningen. The Groningen gas fields, which are the most closely monitored gas fields in the world, serve as a natural laboratory for us, allowing us to investigate the safest approach to dealing with the Earth’s surface.”

This year, 2018, is also the year of completion of Utrecht University’s brand-new Earth Simulation Lab. “We can now build new facilities that help us understand how liquids and rock interact in the Earth’s crust,” Drury continues. “This information is of vital importance in understanding the mechanisms of volcanic eruptions and natural earthquakes.”

From the kilometre scale to the micro level

“We therefore look not only at processes on the kilometre scale but also at the micro level,” Drury adds. “EPOS-NL enables us to make calculations and models that bridge the smallest and the largest scales, and to make predictions and compare them with data from natural laboratories, such as those of Groningen and Delft.”

Tectonics laboratorium

Increased likelihood of breakthroughs

Drury believes that the expansion of EPOS-NL will foster larger numbers of talented scientists, ensue in greater renown worldwide, and, as a corollary, increase the likelihood of breakthroughs in geoscientific research. He concludes: “As long as we continue to share data and make it accessible to the outside world, we can continue to increase the impact we have – both in the world of science and in society.”

National Roadmap

On Thursday, 12 April 2018, Minister Van Engelshoven from the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science presented the certificates for the National Roadmap for Large-scale Scientific Infrastructure in the Koningsberger building at Utrecht Science Park. The highest scientific priority is being accorded to the construction or renovation of the ten top-level research facilities concerned, which will together be receiving a total of €138 million – €12 million of which has been earmarked for EPOS-NL, including €5 million for Utrecht University.

Six projects

Besides its coordinating role in EPOS-NL, Utrecht University participates in five other projects. Together with the University Medical Center (UMC), Utrecht University is involved in the Netherlands Electron Microscopy Infrastructure (NEMI), as well as being active in the Ruisdael Observatory (TU Delft), the National Plant Eco-Phenotyping Centre (NPEC, in collaboration with Wageningen University and Research), X-omics (with Radboud University Medical Centre) and CLARIAH PLUS, the Common Lab Research Infrastructure for the Arts and Humanities.