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Introduction: Gijs Hendrickx

Posted at 23/06/2024 by Gijs Hendrickx

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Gijs Hendrickx

Delft University of Technology

Nature-based solutions to mitigate salt intrusion

My name is Gijs Hendrickx and I am the PhD candidate working on WP 7.1 of the SALTISolutions project: Nature-based solutions to mitigate salt intrusion. This PhD is carried out at TU Delft, where I also did my bachelor and master (Hydraulic Engineering). The Building with Nature-philosophy that is at the basis of this PhD research is popularised among the master students of our section Coastal Engineering. The professor of this section, Stefan Aarninkhof, is also the promotor for this PhD position together with Peter Herman, professor of Ecological Hydraulic Engineering. The two also provide the course Building with Nature in Hydraulic Engineering as an elective in the master. All in all, much attention is paid to the Building with Nature-philosophy in the master-track Hydraulic Engineering at TU Delft.

From a very young age I got interested in the field of hydraulic engineering: I have been playing with water since I was a little boy; as a real Dutch child, I tried to build dams on the beach to withhold the upcoming tide. Since then, I have gone through a major transition in how to approach such engineering challenges: from my naïve belief that I could win against the forces of nature by Fighting against Nature, to my more mature belief that I should collaborate with the forces of nature by Building with Nature instead.

The interest in this Building with Nature-philosophy gained momentum during my master, and reached its peak when I was working on my master thesis. The thesis focused on the biophysics present on coral reefs, i.e. the interaction between biotic and abiotic factors. This research provided insights into these fascinating interactions that are commonly overlooked by engineers. As a result, I wanted to continue in and contribute to the field of Building with Nature, and so I got involved in this research program.

The research encapsulated by WP 7.1 can easily be retrieved from its title: Nature-based solutions to mitigate salt intrusion. Here, nature-based solutions are solutions based on the Building with Nature-approach in which solutions are not solely drawn based on physics, but ecology and socio-economy have an equally important role to play. Such solutions start with a thorough understanding of the system, which form the basis for nature-based solutions. Estuaries, however, are very complex systems in all three aforementioned aspects of Building with Nature as well as the combination of the three: estuaries are commonly densely populated and contain major ports (e.g. Rotterdam), which increase the human pressures on the system. The ecological value in these areas is commonly subordinate to the economic value, partly because the ecological value is hard to express in monetary units. This research aims at balancing these values with the Building with Nature-philosophy.

To do so, this research consists of three phases: (1) understanding the estuarine system and determining the potential of various nature-based solutions; (2) assess the feasibility of various nature-based solutions; and (3) assess the multidisciplinary suitability of various nature-based solutions, including all three pillars of Building with Nature: physics, ecology, and socio-economy.

As of February 2022, we are processing the data of the first phase, i.e. the sensitivity analysis. This includes the training of a neural network, which is to be linked to an open-accessible web-API.

Last modified: 15/02/2022