Scientific and societal impact of climate research at IMAU
IMAU staff collaborate with scientific and societal partners to make professional products for public outreach.
The world faces a formidable mitigation and adaptation challenge, which requires far-reaching policy decisions that must have a solid scientific foundation. IMAU research contributes to this foundation through scientific and societal impact.
Scientific impact: local, national and international collaborations
At the UU level, IMAU actively participates in the Pathways to Sustainability Strategic Theme and the Centre for Complex Systems Studies (coordinator).
At the national level, IMAU collaborates closely with other universities in the Netherlands Earth System Science Centre (NESSC) as well as with its numerous (semi-) governmental stakeholders, e.g. the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI), the Netherlands Institute for Space Research (SRON), the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ), the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), the Netherlands Institute of Applied Geosciences (NITG) and the Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN).
At the international level, IMAU researchers are active in numerous project steering committees and semi-permanent research programmes such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP). Recently, IMAU staff coordinated one and participated in four EU Marie Skłodowska-Curie Innovative Training Networks.
Floating sensors predict plastic on Galapagos beaches
Plastic pollution in the world’s oceans is a growing problem, especially for island archipelagos like the Galapagos Islands. IMAU academics collaborate with local stakeholders to make the Galapagos the world’s first marine protected area to adequately manage the threat of marine plastics. The IMAU team does this by developing a predictive technology. Combining ocean data, wind, wave and tidal models and using our OceanParcels particle tracking tool, we answer questions such as: where does the plastic come from, how does it get there and when does it arrive? These findings will help us to develop a marine plastics forecast: a ‘where and when to clean up’-tool for the local park rangers. The ultimate aim is to show that these methods can be applied to island nations and archipelagos worldwide to tackle the global plastic pollution challenge.
Methane leaks in cities
Emissions of the greenhouse gas methane (CH4) contribute strongly to global warming. Using novel mobile optical greenhouse gas analysers, IMAU researchers and technicians started their search for methane source locations in their ‘home’ city Utrecht by driving an adapted van through the city. Similar measurements were subsequently carried out in 10 other European cities, where the IMAU team carried out measurements in Hamburg (Germany) and Bucharest (Romania). We found in all these cities that emissions are dominated by a few very strong leaks. Typically, less than 10% of the leak locations are responsible for more than 50% of the emissions. This means that by finding and repairing these large leaks quickly, methane emissions from urban gas distribution networks can be strongly reduced.
Societal impact: public and stakeholder engagement
IMAU researchers strive for high societal impact through public lectures, popular scientific publications, blogs, podcasts and (social) media contacts. IMAU staff collaborate with scientific and societal partners to make professional products for public outreach. For example TippingPointAhead.nl is a NESSC website dedicated to making high school students familiar with climate research, including professional outreach videos on e.g. climate models, teaching materials and an annual physics/geography teacher refresher course on climate.
Examples of international organisations with firm roots in society in which IMAU staff currently (co-)chairs divisions and/or participates as advisors are the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) on ozone depletion, the International Methane Emissions Observatory (IMEO), the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) Grand Challenge on i) sea level budget and ii) assessment of climate sensitivity. With our stakeholders in governmental and non-governmental organisations, IMAU staff co-create relevant research questions around climate planning and adaptation. Recent examples of ad hoc engagement with stakeholders are the participation of IMAU researchers in the committees to study the quality of modelling and measuring nitrogen deposition in the Netherlands (Commissie Hordijk), and the oversight committee that investigated the accident with MSC Zoe, which during a storm in January 2019 lost more than 300 shipping containers in the Dutch sector of the North Sea, with serious environmental repercussions for the Wadden Sea.