15.04.2016 EGU: flood defences, natural resources and deflecting incoming asteroids: latest geoscience research presented next week

Hans Thybo Bild vergrößern

Wide range of topics from giant seafloor craters to deflecting incoming asteroids: From 17 to 22 April about 13,000 international delegates will meet at the Austria Center Vienna for the European Geosciences Union (EGU) General Assembly. With a record number of over 16,000 presentations, the meeting will be the largest to date. Inspired by “Active Planet”, the slogan for this year’s event, geoscientists will gather to bring together expertise from individual disciplines. About half of the expected participants are early career scientists. Some research highlights, particularly with Austrian focus, include: 

  • Flood risk – geoscientists call for more investment in inter-regional defence measures; best practice example: EUR 66m project in Tyrol

  • 1°C temperature increase: dry spells in the Waldviertel and Weinviertel regions as well as in Burgenland and Carinthia demonstrate the need for integrated water networks.

  • Responsible use of resources: smartphones contain around 75 elements, including many rare earth metals while a standard device only uses a fraction of this amount. Scientists looking for alternatives

  • At press conferences, researchers will reveal the discovery of giant seafloor craters in the Arctic, how we could deflect an incoming asteroid, and what the latest results on Arctic sea ice decline are, among other exciting results.

Austrian research highlights:
Flood emergencies – EUR 66m for flood defences in Tyrol

“Extreme precipitation does not always have to lead to flood damage. Flood emergencies also indicate that various preventive measures have been ignored. This can include a range of factors – from building on flood plains to inadequate measures for keeping water in drainage areas. We have to learn to think much more broadly in terms of combating the causes, responding earlier and creating a situation where we can reduce the risk of flooding,” explained Professor Günter Blöschl, Vice-President of the European Geosciences Union and Head of the Institute of Hydrology and Water Resource Management at TU Wien. As a result, he is calling for large-scale investment in inter-regional risk planning, flood defence projects and the reinstatement of drainage areas.

Blöschl cites one current project in Tyrol that combines research and specific preventive measures as a textbook example of best practice. Here the Austrian Federal Ministry for Agriculture and Forestry, the Environment and Water Resources, the province of Tyrol and the municipalities affected are investing more than EUR 66m in flood defences. More than half of this amount (EUR 37.6m) is assigned to direct measures such as flexible flood controls and check dams. The other measures are geared towards prevention: EUR 18m in forest maintenance, EUR 7.1m in avalanche barriers and avalanche controls and EUR 3.7m in erosion and rockfall protection. Led by Prof. Blöschl, TU Wien’s Institute of Hydrology and Water Resource Management played a leading role in a study on flood water retention in catchment areas in Tyrol. The aim is to identify the parts of Tyrol in which flood water can be retained as efficiently as possible – i.e. at the source. “The major innovation is the interregional nature of the planning measures. This means that lower volumes of water enter the rivers and we can lessen the impact of many floods,” Prof. Blöschl explained.

Best practice projects such as the one in Tyrol can be implemented within a time frame of two years. Additional measures to protect natural habitats, residential developments and industrial areas are urgently required. Upper Austria and Bavaria are currently working together on a similar flood protection project. “This is vital since flooding in the Upper Austrian section of the Danube is heavily influenced by the amount of water coming into the province from Germany via the Inn and the Danube itself, and whether floods occur simultaneously or with a delay,” Prof. Blöschl explained. “It is essential for businesses and the public sector to work together very closely as it is only by means of a collaborative approach that the latest findings from research can be translated into concrete measures,” he cautioned. TU Wien plays a key role in this process. In the Upper Austrian and Bavarian project it is researching whether there is an increased tendency for the Inn and the Danube to flood at the same time. It is also working to decipher river flood change in Europe as part of a European Research Council (ERC) project.

1°C temperature increase leading to temporary water shortages

The effects of climate change have not passed Austria by. Over the past 10 years temperatures have risen by an average of approximately 1°C. This has an impact on water temperatures as well as on general water quality. “Habitats are also moving. This is evident in tree lines in mountainous regions, which are moving higher up due to climate change,” Prof. Blöschl confirmed. “Individual regions such as the Waldviertel, Weinviertel, Burgenland and eastern Carinthia also have to contend with more extended dry spells,” the respected geoscientist pointed out. This problem is compounded by increased demand for water from agriculture and buildings’ heating systems.

As a result, individual water grids can experience supply bottlenecks, making cooperation with other water supply systems necessary – as seen in supply networks, under which several independent water sources are brought together to provide additional security of supply thanks to their geographic spread. Alternative measures include increasing water storage through retention and replenishment, and cutting demand by employing more efficient irrigation methods.

Three quarters of all Austrian households are currently connected to a water network system. The 14 largest water utilities supply four million people. “In principle, as a particularly waterrich nation we are in a very strong position in Austria. This means that we don’t have to worry about water shortages like some other countries – estimates put the number of people going thirsty at two billion by 2100,” Prof. Blöschl emphasised.

Active Planet – securing long-term quality of life

The world is literally in a permanent state of flux – for example, the Earth’s magnetic field changes every second. Geoscientific phenomena are intertwined and influence one another. In combination, they can have a devastating effect on natural habitats. When it comes to analysing flood and drought patterns, adopting an integrative approach is of the utmost importance. “Although geoscientists are specialists in their particular areas, from volcanology to space research, they never stop looking at the effects of their discipline on other environments. They play an important role in our understanding of how things like climate change, energy supply issues, water shortages, natural disasters and scarcity of resources interconnect,” explained EGU President and Vice President of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters Professor Hans Thybo. “It is this interdisciplinary mindset and approach to our work that is summed up by ‘Active Planet’ – the slogan we have selected for this year’s EGU General Assembly,” Günther Blöschl added. Prof. Thybo also believes that Active Planet sums up the large number of activities on the planet and the wider universe. The aim is also to show people the effects of new patterns of behaviour and certain consumer choices, and ultimately inspire them to adopt a more environmentallyaware approach to available resources. “Contemporary society has no idea just how much more resources go into the production of a smartphone versus the conventional telephones we used to have. A single smartphone uses about 75 elements, including a wide variety of the precious rare earth metals, while a standard device only uses a fraction of this amount. We have to think about how we can keep pace with current demand for smartphones given the scarcity of resources, and take a decision about the direction we want to move in,” said Prof. Thybo. To help inform this decision, geoscientists from a range of disciplines including geochemists, geophysicists and petrologists are working together to identify such issues, estimate the demands they place on existing resources and explore alternative options. Active Planet also covers the search for other planets which could support life in general and human life in particular with a view to creating alternative living environments for the future, given current demographic trends. Water has already been found on Mars, which is an important factor in the planet’s capacity for sustaining life. In these research activities, the focus is on evidence found on the planets themselves.

Both Prof. Thybo and Prof. Blöschl see it as the job of the geoscientists at the EGU General Assembly to engage with the topics up for discussion and identify practical solutions to secure quality of life for as long as possible. There are also separate sessions at the EGU where representative from the individual disciplines have the chance to present their results to each other before sitting down to network and find solutions together.

EGU promoting the next generation of high flyers

For EGU President Prof. Hans Thybo, reaching out to talented early career researchers and bringing them on board is extremely important – after, all more than 50% of EGU delegates are early career scientists. “This makes the congress a meeting where the next generation of geoscientists can network, and experienced geoscientists can connect with young talents: a win-win situation for everyone,” noted Thybo. Early career scientists are encouraged in a number of ways, and with at least one representative in the individual board meetings, they also have a chance to actively shape the congress programme.

For many years the EGU has offered special services for early career delegates including childcare. These are designed to allow talented early career scientists to fully participate in the annual General Assembly. “The atmosphere at the EGU congress is always very open, from the lectures to the poster sessions and the discussions – and that makes it particularly attractive to up-and-coming scientists. This also extends to the special meeting design, which we are able to implement at the Austria Center Vienna thanks to the availability of numerous rooms and spaces,” Prof. Thybo said. The layout of the venue is turned on its head to match the organiser’s call for as many discussion and networking spaces as possible: individual rooms are subdivided and the numerous smaller meeting rooms are used for interactive knowledge transfer. The largest hall in the building and the exhibition halls are used to present the scientific posters.

Press conferences at the EGU 2016 General Assembly

  • Impacts and costs of natural hazards (Monday, 18 April, 12:00–13:00)
  • Volcanoes, climate changes and droughts: civilisational resilience and collapse (Tuesday, 19 April, 09:00–10:00)
  • How ancient organisms moved and fed: finding out more from fossils (Tuesday, 19 April, 11:00–12:00)
  • Giant seafloor craters and thriving fauna: methane seepage in the Arctic (Tuesday, 19 April, 12:30–13:30)
  • Latest mission developments of AIM & DART: could we deflect an incoming asteroid? (Wednesday, 20 April, 12:00–13:00)  Detecting nuclear explosions (Thursday, 21 April, 11:00–12:00)
  • Sea ice decline in the Arctic (Thursday, 21 April, 12:00–13:00)
  • Historical responsibilities and climate impacts of the Paris agreement (Thursday, 21 April, 13:30–14:30)

For a summary of each and participants, please check http://media.egu.eu/pressconferences/.

About the EGU
The European Geosciences Union (EGU) is the continent’s largest geoscientific association. It focuses on different disciplines including earth, planetary and space science. Founded in 2002, its annual congress is Europe’s most highly respected geosciences event. The EGU General Assembly brings more than 12,000 scientists from over 100 nations to the Austria Center Vienna each year. The 2016 EGU General Assembly will take place from 17 to 22 April. For information on media registration, please check: http://media.egu.eu/registration/.

Press release
Günter Blöschl (c) IAKW-AG, bildgewaltig.at
Susanne Baumann-Söllner (c) IAKW-AG, Andreas Hofer
Hans Thybo (c) Hans Thybo
Entrance Hall at EGU (c) IAKW-AG, Harry Schiffer

Internationales Amtssitz- und Konferenzzentrum Wien, Aktiengesellschaft (IAKW-AG) is responsible for maintaining the Vienna International Centre (VIC) and operating the Austria Center Vienna. The Austria Center Vienna is Austria’s largest conference centre, with 24 halls, 180 offices and meeting rooms, and some 22,000 square metres of exhibition space, and is one of the top players on the international conference circuit. IAKW-AG and the Austria Center Vienna are headed by Chief Executive Officer Susanne Baumann-Söllner.

IAKW-AG – Austria Center Vienna
Elena Hajek
Press Officer
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