We are in fact also physicists and biologists: we need to apply that entire range of knowledge in our research.
Predictions show that, in 2040, 75% of the world's population will live in river deltas and river valleys. It is not surprising, therefore, that predicting the behaviour of rivers has become a major research theme for Geoscientist Maarten Kleinhans. He is particularly occupied with the question as to why one river follows a meandering pattern and the other a braiding pattern. Factors such as vegetation, climate, subsoil and relief play a major role.
Rivers on Mars
This research will not only help better assess flood risk, land loss and potential habitat, but it has many more applications as well. For example, ExxonMobil is involved in the study, since large reserves of oil are stored in the layers of rock that were formed by rivers and deltas. And the research is also applicable to Mars: rivers and deltas as found on Mars were successfully re-created in the laboratory. This has led to the surprising discovery that these deltas take about half a year to form, while until now it was thought that this took thousands of years.
At the crossroads between Earth sciences, physics and biology
But the major challenge at the moment is to re-create rivers, river mouths and deltas with live vegetation in the laboratory and simulate these in computer models. No one has managed to do this before, and it requires more than just a knowledge of earth sciences: "We are in fact also physicists and biologists: we need to apply that entire range of knowledge while carrying out field research, experiments and modelling."
Maarten Kleinhans is Professor in Biogeomorphology of rivers and estuaries. He received all grants from the NWO Innovational Research incentives: the Veni grant (2004), the Vidi grant (2008) and the prestigious Vici grant (2014). Maarten was a member of The Young Academy of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) from 2008 until 2013. In 2015 he received an ERC Consolidator Grant.