• SENSE Research Cluster VII: Processes in soil, water and atmosphere

    It is necessary to improve our fundamental understanding of natural processes in soil, water and the atmosphere. Knowledge about the dynamics of e.g. water, carbon and nutrients, within and between environmental compartments, is essential for the development of adequate (coupled) models for climate, water and ecosystems. Participants in this cluster investigate through experimental and modeling research natural processes in interaction with biological processes. In addition, anthropogenic influences on natural processes are examined. The quantity and quality of natural resources are investigated.

    This research focuses on a thorough understanding of natural processes, as a basis for change modeling. The unraveling of hydrological and biogeochemical cycles has a high scientific complexity. It is important to note that the support for integrated soil and water management has a high societal relevance and sustains ecosystem integrity. Participants in this SENSE Research Cluster strive for scientific excellence, combined with clear societal communication.

    Featuring subjects, mechanisms and methods that are being developed and applied in this SENSE Research Cluster are, for example:

    • The role of groundwater in energy and water balances at different scales
    • The influence of changing hydrological regimes on ecosystems
    • The future distribution of carbon between the atmosphere, the oceans and the biosphere
    • The relation between quality and the quantity of natural resources in couple soil-water-plant-atmosphere systems
    • Optimal strategies for the observation of meteorological and hydrological phenomena.

    We welcome experts of processes in soil, water and atmosphere to participate in this research cluster to exchange knowledge and stimulate new innovative developments (if you are not a member of the SENSE Research School but involved with this subject, then you are still welcome to enroll and participate in this research cluster).

    To read more about the SENSE research clusters in general, click HERE.

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    Coordinators and experts

    • Vacant

    SENSE key experts:

    • Prof.  A.A. (Bart) Koelmans (WU-AEW)
    • Prof. S.E.A.T.M. (Sjoerd) van der Zee (WU-SLM)
    • Prof. R. (Remko) Uijlenhoet (WU-HWM)
    • Dr Ton Hoitink (WU-HWM)
    • Prof. A.A.M. (Bert) Holtslag (WU-MAQ)
    • Prof. Maarten Krol (WU-MAQ)
    • Prof. Wim de Vries (WU-ESA)
    • Dr. Marcel Hoosbeek (WU-ESS)
    • Prof. Stephan Uhlenbrook (UNESCO-IHE)
    • Prof. D. Roelvink (UNESCO-IHE)
    • Prof. Rob Comans (WU-SOQ)
    • Prof. Karsten Kalbitz (UvA-IBED-ESS)
    • Prof. Remi Laane (UvA-IBED-ESS)
    • Prof. V.G. (Victor) Jetten (UT-ITC)
    • Prof. Z. (Bob) Su (UT-ITC)

    Contact information:

    For more information about this research cluster, please contact Dr. Monique Gulickx (

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      To illustrate the urgency and relevance of new developments in this field, below we present some of the emerging research questions that are currently challenging both science and society in the research domain of SENSE Research Cluster VII:

      1. How can groundwater and its role in energy and water balances be better included in global change (incl. climate change) modeling and impact assessment?
        Scientific and societal relevance: The IPCC reports that despite its significance, groundwater has received too little attention from climate change impact assessments compared to surface water resources. At this moment, groundwater is only crudely accounted for in climate modeling, despite its importance for various energy and water fluxes across scales. Fully physical-based numerical modeling is not feasible for a number of reasons (process understanding, scale issues, data availability etc.); hence, suitable alternatives are needed. Improvement is very much needed since current models provide answers that are (partly) proven wrong. Moreover, improvement is needed to understand various hydrological consequences for cases ranging from wet feet upon land use change to self-organization of nature areas.
      2. How will the changing hydrological cycle modify the various fresh water reservoirs, including soil moisture, the fluxes between them and the global and regional distribution of these reservoirs and fluxes? How will these changes affect local ecosystems and agriculture, e.g. through changes in droughts?
        Scientific and societal relevance: Virtually all terrestrial life depends on fresh water. Any (drastic) change in the configuration of this water resource and its spatial and temporal dynamics (groundwater, soil water, rivers and lakes, snow and ice, atmospheric water) and the fluxes between its various forms will enforce a change in the ecosystems sustained by the freshwater cycle. While the changes may be global or regional, the effects will be noted in local ecosystems. A particularly disturbing development in that respect is the increasing prominence of droughts. Records of soil moisture and stream flow are often very short, and are often only available for some regions, which impedes full analyses of changes in droughts.
      3. How can we restore and manage terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems and habitats in view of changing hydrological regimes and changing nutrient inputs?
        Scientific and societal relevance: Ecosystems respond to changing inputs and external forcing. These adaptations can have undesirable effects such as loss of biodiversity and a reduction of the gene pool; reduction of natural, economic, and/or recreational values ('ecosystem services'). We need to know how to monitor and predict ecosystem responses and improve our understanding of the functioning of individual ecosystems to mitigate the undesired effects of global changes such as climate change through active intervention.
      4. Which tools can be used for assessing and predicting the conditions that lead to tipping points, where a system changes or deteriorates rapidly, perhaps without further forcing? How resilient was the global climate system in the past, and what are the thresholds, if existent, that induce major shifts when exceeded?
        Scientific and societal relevance: For most impacts of climate change, we have at least some tools for estimating gradual change, but we have too few tools for assessing the conditions that lead to tipping points, where a system changes or deteriorates rapidly, perhaps without further forcing. Mechanisms of onset and evolution of past abrupt climate change and associated climate thresholds are not well understood. This limits confidence in the ability of climate models to simulate realistic abrupt change.
      5. What will be the future carbon budget between the atmosphere, the oceans and the terrestrial biosphere, and how is it affected by land cover change? What will be its regional effects, e.g. in the Arctic?
        Scientific and societal relevance: Many unknowns affect the future global carbon budget: the amount of future fossil-fuel carbon, carbon stemming from deforestation and altered biomass distributions, etc. The distribution of this carbon over the atmosphere, the terrestrial biosphere, and the oceans affects the radiative forcing, ocean acidification, and biomass. Current and future regional carbon balances over Arctic landscapes and polar oceans have the potential to drive global climate change. Expansion of observational and monitoring networks and modeling strategies are needed to reduce the uncertainties of the global and local carbon budgets.
      6. How can we improve our observations at various scales of meteorological phenomena and quantities relevant for large scale weather and climate patterns and trends?
        Scientific and societal relevance: Land surface properties and land-atmosphere interactions that lead to radiative forcing are not well quantified. Surface and satellite observations disagree on total and low-level cloud changes over the ocean. Improving our observations requires application and development of instruments on multiple platforms that provide information at scales ranging from the substrate to the Earth System Model grid-square. They include enclosure systems, flux towers, low-altitude airplanes, and remote sensing instruments. We need to conduct multi-species measurements (e.g. carbon, nitrogen, and reactive species and aerosols) to obtain more information on the different processes involved in land-atmosphere and boundary layer exchanges.
      7. How can we improve our observations of the meridional overturning circulation (the Atlantic Gulf Stream), our predictions of its future trend and our assessment of the impact of that trend?
        Scientific and societal relevance: Observations of trends in the Atlantic Gulf Stream (MOC) are considered unreliable. The likelihood of a large abrupt change in the MOC beyond the end of the 21st century cannot yet be quantified. A permanent reduction in the MOC cannot be excluded if the forcing is strong and long enough. Policy-makers require understanding of the impacts of such events as the collapse of the North Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation. However, without a better understanding of the likely manifestation of such events at the regional scale, it is not possible to carry out impacts assessments.
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        Here you will be able to find interesting articles, links to books that are worth reading, presentations that caught your attention, etc. To suggest items that should be placed here, please follow the instructions mentioned below
        or send an email to the (technical) coordinators.

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          Add a document to the Library

          Do you have any interesting articles, reports or other documents that you want to share within this research cluster? You can add the by clicking on Upload Documents below. Please note that your document will not be visible in the library immediately, because it first has to be approved by the coordinator. You can also contact him if you would like your suggested document to be brought under our attention in a different way or if you would like the document to appear differently in the library (there are some options available for that).

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            Discussion forum

            In this forum topics related to cluster I can be discussed, varying from scientific issues to organizational matters. The forum is very easy to use.

            To enter the forum, click on Forum RC VII below. You will go to the overview page of the forum, where you can see all existing discussions. If you click on a discussion title, you will enter the discussion. You can read all posts and you can also respond to them, by clicking Reply.

            To add a new discussion topic, you can click on Add a new discussion topic on top of the overview page. Please make sure that your new discussion is really new and does not overlap with existing discussions, otherwise the forum will get messy.

            The forum is maintained by the technical coordinator of the research cluster, who will remove any inappropriate contributions to the discussions.

            Please note the following!

            Everyone who enrolls in this course, is automatically subscribed to this forum and will receive e-mail notifications of every post on the forum. If you do not wish to be subscribed to the forum, you can click Unsubscribe from this forum in the top right corner of the forum overview page.

            If you do not want to receive too many notifications, you can adapt the forum settings for your account. To do so, follow these steps:
            a. Click on your username, which is always visible in blue in the bottom left corner of the page. You will go to your personal profile.
            b. Click Edit profile.
            c. Click Show advanced.
            d. In the field E-mail digest type you can now choose one of the three options: standard - notification of every post; daily an e-mail of all posts in full text; daily one e-mail with the titles of all posts. If there are no posts at all, you won’t get a summary e-mail either.
            e. You can also adapt other settings if you like.
            f. Scroll down and choose Update profile to activate your new settings.

            If you want to give feedback on the functioning of the forum or group page in general, then you are most welcome to leave a post in the discussion Technical feedback. The SENSE team will keep an eye on this discussion and will try to process your feedback as good as possible.