Mountains are hotspot of natural disasters, in particular those related to landslides. At the same time, scientific understanding about the natural processes that cause these disasters is lagging behind, because of the complexity of the physical environment and the difficulties facing data collection. The impact of these disasters on society is very high, especially because mountain regions often host less developed infrastructure and vulnerable populations. As a result, there is an urgent need to improve our understanding about how natural disasters in mountain regions occur, how they can be mitigated, and how people at risk can be made more resilient. This proposal will leverage recent technological and conceptual breakthroughs in environmental data collection, processing and communication to leapfrog resilience building in data-scarce and poor mountain communities in South Asia. In particular, we identify three convergent evolutions that hold great promise. First, technological developments in sensor networks and data management allow for participatory and grass-roots data collection and citizen science. Second, web- and cloud based ICT makes it possible to build more powerful analysis and prediction systems, assimilating heterogeneous data sources and tracking uncertainties. Lastly, this enables a more tailored and targeted flow of information for knowledge co-creation and decision-making. These evolutions are part of a trend towards more bottom-up and participatory approaches to the generation of scientific evidence that supports decision making on environmental processes, which is often referred to as "citizen science". We believe that a citizen science approach is particularly promising in remote mountain environments, because improving resilience and humanitarian response in these regions are inherently polycentric activities: a wide range of actors is involved in generating relevant information and scientific evidence, in decision-making and policy building, and in implementing actions both during a hazard and before and after. It is therefore paramount to strengthen the flow of information between these centres of activity, to make best use of existing knowledge, to identify the major knowledge gaps, and to allocate resources to eliminate these gaps. We will use the Karnali basin in Western Nepal as a pilot study. The Karnali basin is a remote and understudied basin that suffers from a complex interplay of natural hazards, including hydrologically-induced landslides and cascading hazards such as flooding. Over the last years, these hazards have caused serious damage to local infrastructure (e.g., roads, irrigation canals, houses, bridges) and affected livelihoods (e.g., 34760 families in the August 2014 floods). Using cost-effective sensor technologies, we will implement grass-roots monitoring of precipitation, river flow, soil moisture, and geomorphology. We will use those data to analyse meteorological extremes, and their impact on spatiotemporal patterns of landslide risk. By merging these data will other data sources such as satellite imagery, we aim to generate landslide risk maps at unprecedented resolution. At the same time, our participatory citizen science approach will enable us to design and implement a framework for bottom-up and polycentric community disaster resilience, based upon knowledge co-generation and sharing. Lastly, we will build upon the existing community-based flood early warning system implemented by our partner Practical Action Nepal, to create a comprehensive multi-hazard early warning system and knowledge exchange platform. For this, we will leverage recent developments in open-standards based, decentralized data processing and knowledge dissemination, such as mobile phones and web-interfaces.
Climate change increases the frequency and intensity of vegetation fires around the world. Fire can considerably increase the landscape’s vulnerability to flooding and erosion, which is in part caused by fire-induced soil damage and hydrological changes. While it is known that plants can alter the fire environment, there is a major knowledge gap regarding the fundamental mechanisms by which vegetation mediates fire impact on soil physics and hydrology. I will address this gap by considering for the first time the cascading effects of plants on fire and soil hydrology, focusing on two important factors in post-fire hydrology: soil heating and ash. My hypothesis is that plant structural and chemical traits vary within the landscape and control fire impact on soil physical properties by affecting heat and ash production. I will test this hypothesis with a combination of spatial sampling, lab experiments and modeling, using contrasting plant species and soils from watersheds in Portugal and the USA. Multiple regression and principal component analysis will be used to relate fire impacts to the various plant traits. This project can help predict and mitigate fire risk and impact across landscapes, facilitate development of risk maps, and generate knowledge with implications for nature conservation, land use planning, fire management and potential policy making. Aside from helping safeguard soil and (drinking) water resources, the project can also change a European braindrain into a braingain, supporting reintegration of a successful interdisciplinary scientist and her large network after three years in the USA. Additional benefits for Europe include transfer of knowledge gained in the USA and knowledge exchange from southern to northern member states. Through training and research, this project will enhance my success of getting a permanent position in academia and create new opportunities to incorporate hydrology and scale in above-belowground interaction research.
The microscopic mechanisms that lead to mechanical failure of soft polymer materials are still poorly understood. The main reason for this is a lack of experimental tools to prepare well-controlled model systems and to observe the failure process in real time at the microscopic scale. Here, I propose to fill this gap by taking a multidisciplinary approach that combines innovative chemical tools with state-of-the art physical experiments and modelling. Previous work in my group has led to the development of polymer networks with extremely well-controlled architecture and bond strength, and of various tools to study their structure and mechanics. Here, I will take advantage of this expertise to systematically unravel the microscopic physics of failure of polymer networks. To visualize how the failure process proceeds, we will make use of recently developed mechanosensors, molecules that change colour in response to a force or that emit light when they break. These chemical tools will allow us to map in real time the spatial distribution of both strains and bond rupture events. Together with computer simulations carried out in parallel, this will give us unprecedented insight in the microscopic processes that occur during failure of the material, from the very first bonds that rupture, to the gradual accumulation of damage, all the way to macroscopic failure. We will use this to address the following unresolved questions about failure of polymer networks: 1. What is the microscopic mechanism that leads to delayed failure of polymer networks at subcritical loads? 2. How does the initiation of failure depend on the material's heterogeneity? 3. How does failure occur in a network with transient (viscoelastic) bonds? The project will not only provide detailed insight in the physics of failure of polymer networks, but it will also shed light on fracture physics in general. Finally, it will help material scientists to design new materials with superior properties.
Access to healthy and sustainable foods is an existential priority as recognized by the UN, WHO, and EU. Replacing animal-based proteins with their plant-based counterparts is expected to be a major step forward, due to a 2-8 fold (depending on the species) increase in protein efficiency. In order to speed up this protein transition, methods need to become available to allow for high-throughput evaluation of protein ingredients, in terms of technical functionality that rules food properties, and physiological functionality that ultimately decides on effects taking place in the body. The EVALUATOR project focusses on plant protein properties in colloidal emulsion systems, for which a tailor-made microfluidic platform will be developed to dynamically assess technical emulsion stability and digestibility. For this, we choose to work with pea and bean proteins that are readily available at low cost within the EU. The microfluidic platform allows real-time investigation at micro and nanometre levels, the scales at which basic food structure elements are formed and degraded, and within very short time spans through high-speed recording, therewith closely mimicking the actual process conditions. EVALUATOR will not only lead to the design of healthier and greener food systems but also supply a versatile microfluidic platform that allows design from first principles, i.e., the actual protein properties as they are relevant for food production and digestion. This brings food design, that currently revolves around trial and error, into a completely different realm, and even more importantly, establishes the currently missing link between technological functionality and digestion. The key for success is the combination of my background in microfluidic design and digestion, that of the hosts in emulsions (WUR, The Netherlands) and the secondment (INRAE, France) in advanced digestive systems, which allows me to cover all aspects of the EVALUATOR project in a ground-breaking way.