Science Research at VU-UvA: Amsterdam Water Science

The water in and around Amsterdam – that's the focus of the new Amsterdam Water Science consortium (AWS).

11/09/2015 | 2:48 PM

On 25 and 26 November, the consortium will be officially launched with a symposium. The decision to fund AWS was announced by Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU Amsterdam) and the University of Amsterdam's Executive Boards back in January. Through the Amsterdam Academic Alliance, the universities each made initial capital of €500,000 available. ‘In AWS, existing lines of research pursued by both universities are given a visible form,’ says Pim de Voogt, Professor of Chemical-Biological Interactions in Aquatic Ecosystems.

Key research lines
One of the two key research lines AWS will explore is the impact of climate change on water shortages, floods and excessive precipitation, and their financial implications. This means that both natural and social sciences will be on the agenda, a research area in which VU-professor Jeroen Aerts plays a leading role. The UvA is primarily involved in the second focal area: effects of climate change on aquatic ecosystems, and especially on algal growth, explains Jef Huisman, Professor in Aquatic Microbiology.

His research group Aquatic Microbiology (UvA-IBED) investigates the growth of harmful algae. ‘Several species are toxic, which leads to the closure of recreational waters, increasing costs for the preparation of drinking water and threatens fish stocks in many lakes and coastal areas worldwide. What are the effects of the steep rise in atmospheric CO2 concentrations on algal growth? And which management measures can be taken to suppress for instance toxic cyanobacterial blooms?  To answer these types of questions, you first need a thorough understanding of how the entire system works. That's exactly what we're working on, together with our VU partners.’

The Aquatic Environmental Ecology research group (UvA-IBED) investigates, among other things, the role that sediment plays within the carbon cycle, and how organisms in the transition layer between water and sediment affect it. The authorities responsible for the area are currently planning the construction of the Marker Wadden in Lake Markermeer. ‘What will this mean for the silt particles that are currently causing turbidity in the water? And what will be the consequences for water plants?’ asks Pim de Voogt, head of the AEE group.

Amsterdam Water Science aims to  involve partners in water management and related fields in and around the Greater Amsterdam Area with its research, in order to address the questions these stakeholders face and to ensure results can be put into practice. In addition, VU Amsterdam and the University of Amsterdam will coordinate their teaching programmes in the aquatic sciences and develop new courses.

Familiar territory
For De Voogt, the partnership is familiar territory, and not just because he is himself a former employee of the Institute for Environmental Studies (VU-IVM). Over the past few years, the scientists have collaborated on a number of projects, ranging from research into the impact of agricultural pesticides on algae in coastal waters to the ecological consequences of toxic flame retardants, and how perfluorinated substances end up in human food. De Voogt's group studies the ecotoxicological aspects: at which concentrations do substances have an impact on living organisms, what is the nature of the impact, and what is the persistence of these substances in the environment? The VU-researchers he has worked with thus far specialise, in soil ecology and soil ecotoxicology on the one hand, and in chemical measurement methodologies on the other – addressing questions such as: what substances can be found in the soil and in water, how can their presence be demonstrated, and how can the quality of the measurements be guaranteed? ‘These are very complementary areas of expertise,’ says De Voogt. ‘The partnership is incredibly productive. Over the past two or three years, we have published at least ten co-authored peer-reviewed articles. I have high expectations of the renewed collaboration between the UvA and VU Amsterdam, that’s been given an enormous boost with Amsterdam Water Science.’

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