NWO grants for 4 FALW research projects

The research proposals of earth scientists Ko van Huissteden, Pieter Vroon en Jan Willem Erisman have been awarded a NWO GO grant. Evolutionary biologist Toby Kiers has received a grant from the NWO Open Programma.

07/07/2016 | 11:01 AM

Quantifying thawing permafrost with radar remote sensing
Ko van Huissteden receives a NWO GO for his project proposal ‘Quantifying shallow and deep permafrost changes using radar remote sensing’.


Climate change thaws permafrost (permanently frozen soil) in the north of the Eurasian and North American continent. This leads to soil instability, threatening of the infrastructure in arctic regions and it accelerates the decomposition of organic matter in the soil, resulting in emissions of greenhouse gases carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4). It now also appears that even deeper sources of methane unexpectedly begin to contribute to greenhouse gas emission. CH4 emissions hotspots have been detected in arctic lakes and a new phenomenon emerged: CH4 producing craters in Siberia. New technologies are needed to better identify these phenomena. Van Huissteden and his team will therefore test and improve innovative applications of radar satellite images. They will use different remote sensing techniques, such as radar interferometry (InSAR), complemented by geodetic and geophysical field research.

Improved models for nucleation solar system bodies
Pieter Vroon receives a NWO GO for his project proposal ‘Development of integrated trace element and stable isotope models of fractionation during planetary core formation’.

Major- and trace-elements and stable isotopes of for example, silicon and sulfur, are distributed between liquid silicate mantle and the metallic core during the formation of the metallic core of planets and moons. In this study, the distribution of stable isotopes of sulfur and silicon and that of the various major- and trace-elements will be measured for the first time under identical experimental conditions of pressure, temperature and chemical composition. The results of these experiments will be used to improve models for the nucleation of a wide variety of solar system bodies, including Vesta  the Moon and Mars. This project will provide new insights in the early evolution of terrestrial planets with different sizes.

Improving nitrogen deposition estimates
Jan Willem Erisman receives a NWO GO for his research project ‘Nitrogen deposition and its impact on drought stress and carbon exchange’.

As a consequence of agriculture and the burning of fossil fuels nitrogen is discharged to the atmosphere, which highly disturbs the nitrogen cycle on earth. Various studies show that increased nitrogen deposition - deposition of nitrogen from the air on a surface - affects the carbon cycle and the response of vegetation to drought. But nitrogen deposition is highly variable in space and time and estimates of the deposition are made with great uncertainty. Because accurate deposition estimates are not available, the determination of the carbon exchange in terrestrial systems is hindered. To improve these estimates, and thus the impact of nitrogen deposition on the carbon cycle, on a local scale, Erisman and his team will combine IASA NH3 and TROMPOMI NO2 measurements with various other vegetation-related satellite data and the LOTOS-EUROS atmospheric transport model.

Generic molecular mechanisms in plant-microbe interactions
Toby Kiers receives an Open Programma grant for her research project ‘The evolution of host control in symbiotic partnerships’.

The movement of nutrients (nutrient cycle) in eco-systems is to a large extent controlled by cooperative relationships  formed between micro-organisms and higher organisms (plants, animals, fungi and protists). These symbioses lead to increasing interdependence between microbes and their hosts. Scientists do not yet understand what prevent symbioses from becoming exploitative, and parasitic (one partner cheating the other). Kiers will determine the fundamental molecular mechanisms that allow hosts to control their symbionts. She uses the nitrogen fixing rhizobia symbiosis as a model and applies it to understand the evolution of plant-microbe interactions, which play an important role in global ecosystem productivity.

NWO GO en Open Programma
NWO GO  supports researchers that want to make use of international research facilities in outer space. The Open Programma enables researchers to develop new research without being limited by programme goals or themes.