Hydrology gets top scientist
Top scientist on hydrology, Jorien Vonk, dragged a million grant from the European Union right after she was selected for a vacancy as Assistant Professor at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. ‘With that money I can be paid for five years, and employ two postdocs and a number of PhD students’, says Vonk. At the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Vonk will work in the Hydrology Group at the Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences.
Vonk examines the ground. The frozen ground to be exact. She is examining what happens to the permafrost (long-term frozen ground) in the Arctic thaw areas under the influence of climate change. To do so, she travels in the summer months to the East side of Siberia, the Canadian west coast and areas in Alaska.
‘With my ERC grant we will look specifically at spots where permafrost thaws very abruptly,’ explains Vonk. ‘That the warming of permafrost will affect the temperature of the ground is already known. But we still know little about what happens when ground with high ice content suddenly thaws.’ A quarter of the land mass in the Arctic is permafrost with a high ice content. That is a very sensitive area, because if it thaws and gets drained, the landscape will sink.
‘Sometimes you see the mud sliding away in front of your feet. Gaps are forming in the landscape wherein small streams, rivers and lakes develop.’ As an example Vonk mentions the Herschel Island off the coast of Canada, where you can see hundreds of meters coastline sinking in the sea.
Vonk will also give lectures on water quality, probably beginning in 2017. By the way, she also studied at the VU: environmental sciences. ‘The studies were a mix of chemistry and earth sciences. But that degree programme does not longer exist.’
This article is based on a publication on Advalvas.vu.nl
Translated by: J.M.W. Geo-Consulting