Climate and water

Climate varies over timescales ranging from decades to millennia. However, since the 19th century, changes have been taking place at a much faster rate, mainly due to man-made emissions of greenhouse gases. These developments are expected to continue at an even faster rate over the decades to come. The most obvious consequence of climate change for the Wadden Sea Area is that sea-level rise will "put in doubt the continued existence of the Wadden Sea as we know it" (Delta Committee report). Geomorphological processes, which keep tidal flat systems in balance with a rising sea level, may fail if the rise is too abrupt, resulting in the region being swamped.

However, in addition to these dramatic consequences, a number of other more subtle but no less important changes can be expected. Examples include changes in the salt content of the water, the morphology of the tidal flats, populations and food web in the water and on land as well as tourism and economic activity. Climate change and its consequences will therefore be relevant to almost every sector when developing an outlook for the long term. Therefore, cooperation across natural science disciplines is essential. Furthermore, climate change research requires a substantial catching-up exercise by socio-economic, planning and governance research disciplines.

Examples of knowledge gaps and research needs are:

  • More detailed studies of regional greenhouse gas emissions. How can the relevant processes be explained? Such studies will have to be linked to ecological studies and models of primary production and decomposition and also to the net transport by tidal flows to the North Sea.
  • The construction of effective region-specific scenarios for climate change and sea level rise as a basis for impact studies and the design of adaptive measures. Important research questions relate to the rate of future sea level rise, the danger of drowning of the tidal flats and the role of natural climate buffers and sand suppletions in guaranteeing safety.
  • More knowledge is required with regard to the possible impacts of climate change on the morphology, water management and ecology of the Wadden Sea Area and the robustness and resilience of existing natural and human systems.
  • The development of innovative and robust adaptive measures based on a thorough exploration of extremes in scenarios for climate and sea level trends.

The Climate and water portfolio is held by  Prof. dr. ir. Pier Vellinga.