Monday, May 31, 2010

Weather in Holland as Unpredictable as Pronunciation of Dutch Consonants

By: Ivy

This weekend Laurel and I tried to bike to the neighboring town of Gouda... spelled like the cheese, but pronounced differently, which makes me feel like the town itself wants to hide.... which might explain why we couldn't find it....

We made it about 6 miles out of Delft on the lovely bike paths that could only exist in the Netherlands. Pictures of the canals running alongside the bike path don't portray their beauty accurately... from the pictures they look like dirty storm water holding troughs, but in person they are little wildlife sanctuaries for herons, ducks, frogs, and flowering lily pads...

The day was going perfectly... canals... empty bike paths... flat trails... munchies... even a windmill siting... everything was so relaxing we didn't even notice the clouds slowly covering the sky, quietly threatening our lovely day...

It began as a light rain. The kind of refreshing rain that falls gently on your skin, like the clouds turned into a giant mister at the exact moment we needed to cool down.... but then they forgot to turn off... instead the spigot was thrashed wide open. The droplets became larger, icier, each one a reminder that we were definitely not wearing any rain gear... which still might have been ok if it wasn't for the wind. And the fact that we were lost.

But besides the lovely bike paths, my second favorite thing about Holland is that everyone speaks English when I need them to. Which at this moment of icy lostness was absolutely perfect. Unfortunately we decided to lose our way about as far away from a train station as possible in this tiny country, but luckily the directions to our ticket to warmth were excellent...

All in all the day was still quite nice, but next time we try to get to Gouda we'll train there and bike back....

A blustery weekend has come and gone

Hi Mom!

You know it's going to be a great day when you start it off with a big bowl of Honing Ringetjes and sliced bananas. Especially when you eat it with a gigantic spoon.

Another week in the lab has come and gone. As 24 June is a holiday here in the Netherlands, UNESCO-IHE was closed leading the past week to only allow four days to work in the lab. Tuesday and Wednesday I attended the 2nd Conference in Research Frontiers in Chalcogen Cycle Science and Technology and heard about many projects revolving around the use, recovery (or removal from waste water) and importance of reuse of the earth's metal supply. On Wednesday, as part of the conference, I attended a trip to the local company Biothane which uses anaerobic treatment methods to treat waste water. At their lab in Delft, close to TU Delft, they test small scale set ups of reactors that could potentially be used for clients all over the world. It was interesting to see how many different methods there are from batch continuous stirred tank reactors to column bed reactors. 
After the conference was over, I spent Thursday and Friday playing the "what if I alter this game" with my lab experiments which may have been fun for them but got somewhat tiring for me. 
Today, I started what will be the bulk of my experimental work here which pertains to sulfide production activity tests in batch reactors. I'm excited to get it all started and see what kind of things I can learn.

Yesterday was a very blustery day here in Delft, complete with a mini hail storm which I was luckily inside for. I did, however, go out exploring in the morning despite light rain. While I was out I stumbled upon some Delft treasures that calmed my spirit and brought me a sense of contentment, including:

Beautiful, new and appropriately themed graffiti under the bridge.

A place to hide during the heaviest rain from which I could still watch the Holland Beach Soccer tournament. 

A delicious cup of black chai tea and a spinach & olive bagel to enjoy while hiding in Bagels and Beans.

Some shenanigans down by the canal involving a large slide, some sort of homemade flying/flotation devices and people clad with superhero costumes.

And lastly,

 A couple of fellows enjoying the canals and watching the slide with curiosity.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

New friends, modelling, and a crazy adventure with an easy ending

This week, I really started to feel at home at UNESCO IHE. I met a lot of students because I went out to dinner at a scrumptious Ethiopian restaurant with a large group of them, and then of course meeting some people leads to meeting other people, and all of a sudden, I feel like not such a newcomer anymore.

I did some speciation modelling of the time zero in my experiments where I will add zinc to a Hoagland nutrient solution and then incubate the duckweed in the solution. The good news is that no precipitation occurs. Also when the solution is acidified, no precipitation occurs. This is good news. Yet it doesn't explain past results obtained where mass of the heavy metals was lost through the course of the experiments. What was happening in the past experiments? How can loss of mass be prevented in the current experiments?

I finally had the time to change the punctured tire on my bike, and Ivy and I went on a ride yesterday. It turned into quite the adventure. I kept telling myself that adventures are good for you, and I have not had an adventure in a long time.

It was a most gorgeous sunny day when we set off to Gouda, a town maybe 15 miles away by car (who knows really how far away by roundabout bike paths). We were passing houses right on the canal, cow pastures, birds singing in wetland areas, a traditional Dutch wooden windmill, and enjoying it all. Perhaps an hour or two into the ride, it started to look like rain. Sometime later, it began to sprinkle. This was all very well, and we kept riding because it seemed like the thing to do.

Another hour or so later, we were getting wet, and the temperature dropped. Wind, rain, cold, and we were also a little lost, even though we had two maps of the area. Luckily, the Dutch are very kind and also have good public transportation, so we stopped and got good directions to the nearest train station. While it may diminish the craziness of our adventure, the train was a welcome end to the adventure. Better luck next time in getting to Gouda!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Scarcity as an Impetus for Change

By: Ivy            
As part of the 2nd International Conference on Research Frontiers in Chalcogen Cycle Science and Technology, we had the opportunity to sit in on numerous lectures regarding engineering processes for heavy metal removal and recovery.  Although all presentations were excellent, I’d like to analyze the concept of scarcity, as presented by the keynote speaker.
            Scarcity is a dynamic idea; a concept that appears tangible and measurable but may in fact be more elusive and complicated. Certain issues, such as the quantity of discovered reserves, the invention of substitute products, better recycling technologies can influence the perception of scarcity. Although the concept of scarcity may be difficult to define, its consequences can be more easily measured, through economic or social repercussions.
            It is well known that metals, like any other nonrenewable resource, are being depleted at a rapid rate, a rate which is constantly increasing as population and consumer demand continues to rise. Metals are pervasive throughout all aspects of life, making comfort and convenience possible. Rare earth metals give us gadgets; uranium gives us power; aluminum gives us mobility.
            As resources become depleted, materials become more expensive. Environmental and social pressure increase. Technology ‘advances.’ But at some point, these resources will be unavailable, making research and development of recycling methods, adequate material substitutions, means of resource conservation, and recovery technologies imperative.
            Issues surrounding metals scarcity mirror those of water scarcity. These resources may be perceived as abundant, and so they are treated as such. Cell phones are built to be replaced every two years; landscaping is designed to require massive volumes of drinking water to sustain it. However, although there may be a substitute for aluminum, there is no substitute for water. Granted, water can be ‘created’ through reverse osmosis or other energy intensive technology, but there is always that tradeoff.
            Personally, I don’t have much experience with metals and have never thought much about their disappearance. It never occurred to me that uranium would one day (projected 19 years) run out, making nuclear power obsolete, much like it seems crazy that on a planet with so much water, this resource could become scarce. However, this is, in fact, the case in many places.
            The parallel between materials resources, energy, and water availability underlines the interdependence of environmental systems. Materials never really disappear from existence, but may change shape or location. Metals can be recovered from contaminated sites much like wastewater has its own set of resources quietly hiding within it. The difficulty and challenge lies in recovery these resources for a more sustainable closed loop exchange. It may also require a lifestyle shift away from the throw-away single use society that dominates today. In this sense, the perception of scarcity would be redefined, as materials would no longer be disappearing from the cycle, but could be revived and reused again and again.

Research, Berlin, and fun things of Delft


For the duration of my research here at UNESCO-IHE, I am working with Dr. Diederik Rosseau. The topic we are working on is removal of heavy metals from simulated industrial wastewater via sorption to duckweed, Lemna gibba. Specifically, I will be investigating Zinc.

Interesting first insights into the project I forsee that will potentially be challenges are as follows. First of all, I just took Dr. Trotz's aquatic chemistry course at USF, and I really want to make some speciation diagrams for the metal solutions I will be making up for the experiments. This will be possible to do for initial speciation, but more difficult once the duckweed is introduced to the solution, taking up nutrients and some zinc species, and thus making plotting speciation over time probably very difficult.

Second, zinc plays a role in photosynthesis. Are there zinc species that are more easily uptaken by the plants, and if so, in what conditions are these species present (pH, etc.)?

And finally, the most challenging aspect of this project is that past students working on the same research objectives have not been able to close the mass balance on the heavy metal, i.e. a good percentage of the mass originally introduced into solution was not accounted for as adsorbed to the plant, uptaken by the plant, or precipitated from solution. It is not clear why it was not possible to account for this mass. I am certainly going to give it my best, learn as much as I can in the process, and hopefully have good results in the end.

Last week, other than reading up on metal sorption to aquatic plants, my first mission for the lab was not actually in the lab. I got to ride my new road bike around Delft searching for duckweed. I found some Lemna minor, another species of duckweed. In the process, I came across this beautiful lake to the east of the city, a park full of kilometers of bike trails, and I saw a gorgeous pheasant on a trail in the middle of these woods filled with birdsong. In the end, I collected Lemna gibba from the pond near UNESCO-IHE, but I got to see another beautiful spot in Delft in the process of searching.

The Lemna gibba is currently growing in trays under fluorescent bulbs in the lab on primary effluent from a local wastewater treatment plant. Photos later.

Outside of work, which is good, we traveled to Berlin for the long weekend we had off of work. I loved Berlin. I can't properly explain it, but I liken the atmosphere in Berlin to Boston. It is the only European city I have been to that reminded me of the city of Boston, where I lived for 5 years. Of course, the history is different, the sights are different, the language is different, I just noticed similarities.

Other than learning more WWII history in 2 days than I ever learned in high school, the most notable thing I loved about Berlin was all the musicians on the streets and in the subways. I have never heard so many really good musicians in one city. One man played the glass harp, a series of wine glasses of different sizes tuned by adding different amounts of water to the glasses. He played many Bach pieces. I bought his CD, he was so good!

And lastly, I am enjoying the company of so many international students in one place. It makes me want to come back to Delft, for longer than a summer.

2.5 weeks and counting


Since the premise of this past week was to finally get ourselves to work, that was exactly what we did. We finally met with our corresponding work team. I had the pleasure to meet Dr. Piet Lens and Dr. Amit Kumar, renown environmental scientists in the fields of anaerobic wastewater treatment and membrane biotechnology respectively. I'm not trying to get gain some advantage by complementing them (or am I?), however I feel very fortunate to work with such smart characters.
Other important remarks from last week were our visits to the east side of the country. Wageningen and Enschede are the locations of Wageningen University and NORIT office. Althought our vist to Wageningen was very interesting (refer to the picture below), I had much more productive time at Enschede since I got to see a AnMBR configuration similar to mine but larger!. Yes, the concept is working and I'm not crazy!. I will not discuss the specifics of this visit but I'd like to thank Harry Futselaar, his team at NORIT and the students at Saixon for hosting us.

 (Cow skeleton at Wageningen University)

 (NORIT's pilot plant)

It's working time from now on so don't expect any more goofy pictures (yeah right). For what I'm concerned there is not such a thing as super serious blogging, and believe me, Europe is fun.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tracer Test

By De

Yesterday was a holiday so we had a three day weekend to go exploring.  In order to make use of the long weekend in the lab, Chol decided it would be a good time to run a tracer test in order to see the average retention time the water spends in the columns we are using.  This can be done by "spiking" the wastewater that we intend to pump through the system with sodium chloride.  This addition will increase the electrical conductivity of the water and can be monitored using an EC monitor.  The EC records data on 10 minute intervals.  When the EC begins to increase then level off, the "spiked" water has gone completely through the system.

We can calculate a theoretical value for the average detention time in the column:
            avg detention time= EBCT*porosity
           (EBCT= empty bed contact time)
            EBCT= Volume/Q=Height/Velocity
for the columns the theoretical EBCT was 4 days, then multiplied by the measured porosity of the sand= 0.4 -----> the average detention time for the columns= 1.6 days

The measured value we got by monitoring the EC of the water came out to be:
   for column 1: 1.302 days
   for column 2: 1.469 days

Jumping the Country

By: Ivy

For the long weekend, we all headed to Berlin to get a strong dose of history and culture. Although one could easily spend weeks in the city and still not see everything it had to offer, we crammed a lot into the two days we spent here....

What blew me away was the depth of the history that the city has lived through.... the centuries of war and changes of government was apparent in the architecture, graffiti, food, and memorials. From the Brandenburg Gate reminiscent of the times of Napoleon to the now infamous hotel where the late Michael Jackson hung his baby out the window, Berlin is definitely an eclectic place with something for everyone.

To me, the most interesting facet was the more recent history of the Berlin Wall. To be honest, before this visit I knew of the wall, but didn't have a very good understanding of its meaning, its purpose, or the breadth of its influence. Standing by the East Side Gallery, a portion of wall restored with its original graffiti, was the best place to really glimpse what it must have been like to view freedom from across a river. Other graffiti spread throughout the city, from raised fists to peace signs to other more provocative murals, told a story of its own, through symbolism and color. I couldn't get over how recent this separation was; 20 years ago is a blink of an eye in a city with a history dating back to the 13th century.

The history of World War II was palpable throughout the city, most notably in the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe and the bombed Kaiser Wilhem Church. The Holocaust Museum located underneath the Memorial was incredibly well done. The shear number of victims of the War is difficult to wrap one's head around, but the Museum put the destruction in  perspective by putting faces, stories, and family histories to the numbers. For example, one particularly moving installation had lighted placards on the floor. These placards had copies of handwritten notes from victims to their families describing their emotions at the time of the incarceration and impending death. A border around the room listed the number murdered from each country invaded or affected during the War.

On a brighter note, the city also had many other impressive structures, such as the Parliament building with a glass dome that could be climbed for nice views of the city. Other city parks and museums offered a break from the busy and sometimes touristy streets. Live music was ubiquitous, culminating at the Carnival of Cultures, a weekend festival celebrating music, food, and cultures from around the world.

Monday, May 24, 2010

work week, take one.


It has been a while since I blogged and a ton of things have happened. Lets start with the reason that we are here, then get to the bonuses at the end.

  Earlier this week I met my lab mentor Denys who I will be working with over the summer. She gave me several papers regarding her current research, to which I will contribute, and showed me around her area of the lab. Her research involves the removal of heavy metals using an inverse fluidized bed reactor that contains a carrier material that is covered with a sulfate reducing bacteria biofilm. In theory, these bacteria will produces sulfide which can then form complexes with the heavy metals located in the water and the entire aggregation will settle to the bottom of the reactor.

In an attempt to estimate the amount of bacteria that are present in the liquid phase of the reactor (those that did not join the biofilm) this week I have been using the Modified Lowery Method, which can be done at room temperature, to determine the amount of protein (from which the bacteria concentration can be determined) in a given sample. The results from the Lower Method will give Denys a better idea of how active the liquid phase of the column is. The first step in the utilization of this method was to produce a calibration curve (exp seen in the right picture above) using the spectrophotometer. After making two calibration curves, one in just water and one in a mineral media, we ran an experiment on the liquid phase of the current reactors that are operating to get an idea of where the samples, diluted and undiluted, would fall on the curve we had developed. Overall it was a very educational week and I had a lot of fun working in the lab. IHE, like the rest of the Netherlands, is very welcoming and friendly and if you stay for a week you feel like you've been there forever. I'm excited to get back to the lab this week and have a positive feeling that I will be able to accomplish a lot for Denys and learn a lot for myself both personally and in regards to my research.

As an extra bonus of being in the Netherlands, the evenings and weekends, especially those containing a holiday, can be spent exploring and learning about other cultures.
First things first, I bought a bike the second week that we were here which, unfortunately, had loose handle bars that would wiggle from left to right. This didn't scare me too much until the cobblestone streets wiggled the screw further out causing a front and back motion to coincide with the right to left motion my handle bars. Although already having fun, this allowed a full range of direction for my handle bars to dance while I was riding. This, luckily, was easily remedied using an allen screwdriver, size 6, from the local hardware store. Now my bike sits happily in the bike room of Mina playing well with all of the other bikes until I need her.

One of the other things that I have really enjoyed in Delft is the underpass that zuidwal takes near the train station. Almost every inch of wall through this part of the street is covered with graffiti. Ranging from 3 toothed apples to super mario characters the graffiti adds a splash of color and life to the surrounding areas. I enjoy looking at the flow of colors and artistic ideas and am impressed that such impressive art can be done with a spray paint can.
I believe that this is part of Delft that changes quickly and isn't ever really the same. Just a couple of weeks ago I was walking under the bridge and saw a few people painting over already existing paint. I'm excited to keep seeing it evolve and change. 

Finally, the last thing I will try to cover in this already huge blog, is our trip to Berlin, Germany. Today, Monday May 24th, is a holiday in Holland so UNESCO-IHE is closed. Taking advantage of this, we all set out for Berlin on Thursday evening after leaving the lab. After a very very long (6hr) train ride we finally made it. 

Berlin was very interesting, filled with beauty, history and emotions about their past and their united future. 

It has been a very exciting and busy week in the Netherlands, and beyond, and I am looking forward to the next.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

This first week flew by......

It has been one week of me being here in Delft and I cannot believe that time went by so quickly. I guess I am still in awe of the amazing architecture, central market on Thursday and, most of all, the bicycle riding skills of the Dutch. I am too chicken to try even getting on a bicycle, I really cannot remember the last time I rode one. So as for me I will continue to walk and enjoy the beautiful City of Delft. I really hope that I will loose a few pounds in the process.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Time to get our hands dirty

By De

So far our time here has been spent listening and observing how the Dutch handle their system of water.  This week, its time to start working with our mentors and gaining hands on experience in the lab.  Most of my colleagues are more experienced than myself, but I look at it as I have more room to learn!  I'm very excited to learn learn and learn some more during our visit here, but I also want to be able to bring my knowledge to the table.

Yesterday we met our individual mentors that we will be working with this summer.  We also had a basic orientation of how the lab works and safety precautions that should be considered.  My mentor, Chol Abel, is a PhD student at IHE.  His project deals with SAT (soil aquifer treatment).  This morning, Chol and I went over the lingo that I will be becoming accustomed to while working on this project.  Oh my, so many acronyms! SAT, NOM, DOC, BDOC, SMPs, and so on!

Chol has built an apparatus to simulate water percolating through the soil.  The apparatus consists of: 2 2.5 m pipes in series  filled with sand (the bottom 5 cm is made up of gravel to avoid the sand media to wash through).  The influent water comes from a local waste water treatment plant after it has gone through secondary treatment.  The water is of higher quality than can be expected in practical use, but to start off using highly contaminated water runs the risk of clogging the apparatus.

The idea is to analyze the effectiveness of SAT in removing Nitrogen, Carbon, Phosphate and pathogens.  This analysis is done by the use of many different machines (which I will hopefully be a "pro" at using by the end of my stay here!).  Later in his research, Chol will be varying different aspects of the process to see its effects on the effectiveness of SAT.  He will vary components such as temperature (as effective in summer as in winter or vice versa?) and infiltration rate (which can simulate the effectiveness of media with different porosity).

I'm looking forward to what the summer has in store for me at the UNESO IHE laboratory!

Residual Reflection

By Ivy

Things have been non-stop since we arrived. Though I'm preparing for each coming day, I am still processing our experiences last week...

A major theme to the week was obviously water management. But digging a little deeper, other recurring themes emerged. Interagency agreement, the Polder Model, the survival instinct that accompanies the fight against nature, the definition of nature, the short attention span of the human mind.

Although elected bodies, water boards are currently more or less apolitical with the ability to set their own taxes to cover the expense of water infrastructure management. Recently, there has been a shift to politicize the water boards and possibly incorporate them into the provincial governments. Valid arguments can be made on both sides: consolidate government to reduce costs vs. maintain local control to keep money for dike repair.

A main drive for the shift appears to be the feeling that because a flood has not occurred in recent memory (for most, 1953 is a long time gone), resources can be consolidated. The dikes have worked for decades, so of course they should continue to protect the people. The attention span has been reached. The problem is that water management is a dynamic job requiring constant monitoring and maintenance, especially in the Netherlands. There is a danger that in consolidation, resources will be diverted to other projects, leaving dike maintenance for another administration.

It appears to be less a feeling of apathy, but more a feeling of comfort. This feeling extends to many aspects of our experience: expecting the tap water to turn on because it did yesterday, expecting it to rain because it did last year, expecting an engineered solution to fix another environmental problem because we were able to fix the last one.

Although history can be an excellent teacher, he may not be psychic. There is a danger in taking elements of every day life for granted. We notice when the electricity goes out and suddenly we are helpless. We notice when the reservoirs are empty and our taps are dry. We notice when our environment is covered in oil.

This week I've been thinking a lot about the Dutch experience and perception of environment. Although I'm now studying engineering, I am an environmentalist at heart (a vegetarian tree hugger, I suppose). Perceptions of safety can be applied to natural environmental systems as well as engineered ones; if the dikes are allowed to decay, there will be too much water. If surface and groundwater are polluted, there won't be enough.

In a way, the Dutch have backed themselves into a corner by centuries of manipulation of the land and the natural environment. It's a demonstration of the resiliency of a people and an environment. However, I think it is also a lesson in appreciating the value of what we have and the importance of protecting it.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

New Work Shoes

By: Ivy

Most of this weekend I have spent in my room working on my thesis project in the hopes of graduating this summer.... this, as you can imagine, has not been all that exciting. But since the sun has been out both Saturday and Sunday, it was inevitable that I would steal away from the computer screen to work on my Dutch assimilation......

The infamous wooden shoe apparently has been used in the rural part of the country as an outdoor shoe. They are carved slightly bigger than ones normal shoes, so that when one goes out to work in the garden planting tulips, one's Reeboks do not getting muddy. The wooden shoes are meant for working!

With productivity in mind, I bought myself some work shoes. Mine are more cotton than wood and more designed for lounging than working, but I am sure they are working shoes. They have been nothing but motivation to work, work, work....

Oh no!, It's too dark

There have been power outages in Colombia, power outages in United Sates, and I guess the Netherlands couldn't be left behind. But no worries, an aromatic candle and a group of goofy people will do the trick.

(Ooooh... noooo!)

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Engineering geeks, this is paradise!!


Let's evaluate the engineering ingenious of the Dutch using a score from 1 to 5 happy faces. To understand this scale and what it means to an engineering dork like me, let's assume 1 happy face is what you make when you see a kitty cat licking its tiny paw, 5 happy faces refer to that feeling when you see a 1 ton white tiger playing the violin while walking on a high wire and holding the kitty cat with its tale. This being said, let's start the evaluation of this past engineering entertainment week.

Day 1: The Hague and the Headquarters Rijkswaterstaat of the Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management
Score:  =) =) =)
 (Rikjswaterstaat, coffee and more)

Visiting the Headquarters of the Rijkswaterstaat was very instructive. We spent quite some time learning the water management structure of the Netherlands and drinking delicious coffee. The system is relatively simple. The hierarchy starts a very local level with the Water Boards and Municipalities, followed by the Provinces, National Government and finally at the top, the EU. Although each of them have to respond to the higher level, they are independent to make decisions regarding the benefit of the local community since geographical location of the Water Boards and Provinces is highly influential (not all the country is under sea level).

 (The Hague and what we assumed it was the congress building)

It was also a beautiful day in the Hague (SUN WAS OUT) and after leaving the headquarters we took a walk around the city to max out our cameras with random pictures of this European Historic legislation center.

Day 2: Kinderdijk and Biesbosch
Score: =) =) =) =)
I give to this trip 4 happy faces not only because is very cool engineering site but because is a happy place. After enjoying a nice presentation of the Rivervieren Waterstaat (Riverside water board) representatives, we took a walk to the old windmills field. All I have to say is... fun, fun, fun. Starting from the application of this mills to control water levels in the area (raise water from the canals towards the river) only powered by wind, to the mill itself. The appeal of these structures is not only functional but aesthetic. If It were my choice I'll make some space next to the creepy doll inside the mill and live there. Besides, Dutch country side is just plainly beautiful.

 (One of the 19 wind mills in the area and a creepy doll living inside it)

On the other hand, Biesboch is quite impressive as well. I also have to say that it's not as fun as Kinderdijck but could enjoy the several hectares of reclaimed land (i.e. land that has been taken back from the water). From the engineering perspective, this is pretty awesome and you get to search for ghost beavers while riding the boat. I mean, the boat captain said himself that he has seen 2 beavers in 10 years, which probably happened when he had one too many "coffee cups" according to one of the persons in the boat.

 (There is a beaver hole somewhere in this picture)

Day 3: Zeeland province
Score: =) =) =) =) =) .... =D.
 (Zeeland province. My cheeks were frozen and I couldn't stop smiling)

Wow, I mean wow. Although this visit started a little slow and the weather was terrible, it was all forgiven when we arrived to the Oosterscheldekering. Let's not get there just yet, first let me talk briefly about the Watersnoodmuseum (Flood disaster museum). At his point, my colleagues have covered the specifics about the 1953 flood that change the lives of the Dutch forever. After this tragic event, the Dutch decided to strengthen their water barriers and develop a protection plan that could avoid this type of event to happen "ever again". If you want to know more, go back and read about it in my colleagues' blogs. This museum was made as memorial of this event, and the cool thing is that is inside a engineering structure called "caisson". Four caissons remaining from WWII were placed in series to fix one of the dikes broken during the war (that's another cool thing, there is so much history behind Dutch water management development). A caisson is mainly a big rectangular box of concrete, in this case a 20x15x60 m box. As you have seen in the other blogs, the most impressive part of this museum is the the project developed by Koert Davise and Roel Wouters, where the victims of the flood gain a face through personal stories told by their own relatives (

  (Very sad moment in Dutch history)

And after sadness, there is always happiness. We arrived to one of the most amazing engineering structures in the world, the Oosterscheldekering. The Oosterscheldekering or the Eastern Scheldt storm surge barrier is simply AWEEEESOME. A nine kilometers wall built to protect the Dutch from flooding. It took 10 years to finish this beauty, 3 years to compact the sea floor where it stands, costume made cranes to move the wall's pillars, an artificially created dry area to built the pillars on-site. I think I increased the water level of the river with my drool. Unfortunately,  I couldn't exhaust my SD capacity because my camera run out of battery but here is a tiny sample of the scale of this engineering marvel.

 (9 Km of barrier) (Inside the barrier)

Day 4: Maasvlakte-2 and the Maeslantkering
Score: =) =) =) =D

This visit has 1 happy face left because, after the sweet flavor given by these very cool superstructures, there is a little sour side that my environmentalist alter ego perceives. Let me elaborate on this. Maasvalkte-2 is a very ambitious project that will redefine the coastline currently occupied by the Port of Rotterdam to increase its cargo capacity and improve its competitiveness around the world, specially in Europe. A project of this magnitude require an equally big environmental remediation program, and it was here were one of my happy faces disappear. However, when we got the Masklantkering the drool started running again. This storm water surge is probably more known than the Oosterscheldekering although it is "smaller". A completely automated system that closes two gigantic doors, each of one pivoted on gigantic ball joints which almost have the same degrees of freedom of the joint in your shoulder. The system makes a decision based on weather related data and the joint was made with the precision of a Swiss watch. Isn't this cool or what!?!?. As they describe it, there are 2 Eiffel towers automatically closing when a dangerous storm is coming. I definitely had plenty of pictures to spend on this one but I will show you only 2 because this blog is already too long.

 (One of the doors)
 (300 m... seria una locura!!!)

I got a bike!!

Yesterday I was successful in finding a decent bike to buy!  From the very beginning, we all knew that buying a bike for our 3 month visit was going to be key in gaining the full experience and being able to travel to all of our destinations around Delft with ease.  Audrey joined me on our journey to Schiedam-Nieuwland where we obtained the bike. 

Today, Audrey and I set out on our first bike ride.. yikkkess!! Let's just say, riding a bike in Holland is much different than riding a bike in Florida!  While the idea is the same, the other bicyclists are much more experienced and there is more traffic (whether cars, pedestrians or other bikes).  We decided to stick to back roads for now until we get used to how things work!  Today was a great start in our efforts to really immerse ourselves in the Dutch culture.  Can't wait to see where my new bike will take me!

Putting the week in perspective

Wednesday, May 12 some of us had an excellent conversation over a scrumptious dinner of 3 different types of fish. Over the course of the day, Leo van den Brand, of the Province of Zeeland (see for a short interview) talked about how the Province has realized since the Delta Works were completed that closing off the estuary, while good for flood safety, has negative ecosystem effects and creates water quality problems. The Province is working with other stakeholders to look for solutions to some of these problems.

Many times during the week, a comparison was drawn between the human/environment and engineering/ecosystem interfaces between the Delta Works in the Netherlands and the Florida Everglades Restoration. An engineering solution to flooding was devised for the Okochobee area, which created extreme ecosystem and water problems in the Everglades. There were of course other engineering interventions along the history, including building a major highway through the Everglades.

Today, stakeholders are trying to come together to solve these environmental problems in the Everglades, although the United States is a different country, with different complications than here in the Netherlands. Often stakeholders are quick to jump to the judicial system, because the legislative branch of the U.S. government has historically been too slow to act on environmental policies. It is unfortunate sometimes that so many lawsuits are filed. So- how can stakeholders in the U.S. work more efficiently together, and try to emulate the Polder Method, as the Dutch call bringing stakeholders together to work towards a common solution. According to Leo van den Brand, coming to a solution can take 10 years, but the Dutch see it as necessary to keep stakeholders satisfied with the finalized solution.

Humans and the environment often can be at odds with eachother. How do we prevent this from happening? How do we change situations so that humans and the environment are not completely at odds, but have some semblance of synergy? After all, we have always and will always depend on the environment for our basic needs to be met.

Engineering is a field often seen through the lense of "building stuff," a field that causes negative effects in ecosystems. Why is this? Engineering in the past has considered safety and cost top priorities when solving problems. Now engineers are being taught to consider the environment. And yet- can engineers really consider the environment as a top priority when safety and cost are so ingrained in engineers' thinking patterns? Doesn't that mean that engineers need folks from other disciplines such as biologists or ecologists to be present in project decision-making, in order that we do consider the environment as best we can when coming up with solutions? The Dutch certainly believe so.

Particularly of interest, the Oosterschelde Storm Surge Barrier at the mouth of the Oosterschelde estuary was redesigned from its original proposal to entirely close off the estuary, making the estuary brackish or fresh. During the 1960's, (after the flood of 1953 that killed 2000 people mainly in Zeeland) people protested the closing of the Oosterschelde estuary. They were successful in affecting the design. Today, the Oosterschelde Storm Surge Barrier restricts some flow in that the piers stand where once nothing stood, but there are sliding barrier doors that close during the threat of high waters, which is not very often.

We can look at the past and have regrets, or we can be mindful of our past and look to the future, attempt our best and create an improved world in the process.


Friday, May 14, 2010

To come or not to come (today)???

I'm finally en route to join the USF team that has been at UNESCO-IHE since last week wednesday. Now I'm sitting in Philly and the flight is way over sold and they are beging people to go to Holland via different routes (with $1000 US travel voucher and $200 cash!!!!). The deal is indeed enticing and the fact that I'll get to stay in some heat a while longer makes it evern sweeter. I've got till 6:40 pm EST to decide. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

Since ALPS has graciously volunteered to recieve me at the airport I guess I'll be on my way tonight and brave the cold from tomorrow. See you all in the morning guys.


You don't need a time machine to go to futureland anymore


 Yesterday we began our day at futureworld (located where the red star is in the image to the left) in Rotterdam where we had the opportunity to see the dredging project that is currently being done to expand the port of Rotterdam. Known as Maasvlakte 2, an addition to Maasvlakte 1 which was completed in the 70's, the expansion will develop the port further into the noordzee and increase it's capacity drastically, maintaining the port's position as the fourth largest port in the world. By dredging coarse sand from the sea, vessels deliver the sand to the desired location using one of two methods. The first, as seen in the picture to the left, is to spray the sand and the second is to attach piping to the dredging vessel and pump the sand into location. The picture outlined in red to the left is adding sand to what will be the land in the red box located in the top artistic image of what the port will look like when it is completed. The project is estimated to cost 2.9 billion euros and will begin to open in 2013 when the first company will set up its cargo containers on the new land. A whopping 365 million m^3 of sand is estimated to be required for the project which is being done by two of the largest hydraulic companies in the world under the name Puma. Futureland acts as a museum for the project and includes many visual opportunities for the visitor to learn how the land is formed, the time frame under which the project will be completed and examples of other large scale dredging projects such as the palm islands and the world located in Dubi. In addition, information is provided about the environmental impacts of the project and what the port is doing to make up for the cost of manipulating the environment in such a way. 

After we had seen enough of the port expansion, it was time to leave futureland and return to the present day with a boat trip of the public transportation persuasion which took us directly through the Maeslantkering storm surge barrier. When the Delta works project began, there were two waterways in particular that were not desirable to close off. One was the Westerschelde, which connected to Belgium and the other was the Nieuwe Waterweg, which held the port of Rotterdam. In an attempt to protect their people from the storm surge of the North Sea, the Dutch set out to find a design for a barrier that would remain open leaving no impact on entering ships, but that would close and protect the people in the case of a storm.
After considering several different models presented by engineering companies, they finally choose what is now the Maeslantkering barrier. Concrete blocks were placed on the waterway's floor to prevent sand movement when the gates closed, and two large, moving barriers were fabricated. Both barriers, one on either side of the river, pivot on huge ball joints and are a total of 210 m long and 22 m high. When the computer detects a specified water level rise, the two barriers pivot on the joint using a gear like device that is located on top of the barriers which meet each other in the middle, leaving an approximately 1 m gap in between, as seen in the model rendition of the closing located in the above image's top right corner. When triggered to close, the barriers move into the water and begin filling from the bottom causing them to sink and block potential storm surge. One of the most important things in the use of the barrier is the ball joint hinge which allows a high degree of motion in the movement of the barrier. 

After marveling for quite some time at the intensity and brilliance of the Maeslantkering barrier, we set off on our way home while of course taking the scenic route. On the way back to Delft we stopped and took a stroll on the beach of the North Sea. I was surprised by how much foam was on the beach and found the sand to be much different than the sand that we encounter on the west coast of Florida. Never the less, it was beautiful and I can now say that I touched the North Sea, and took a picture (and shells)! Oh, don't tell anyone, but I also pet a cute little doggy which is something that I have wanted to do since I arrived. While anticipating our trip to the Netherlands I stumbled across a website that discussed the number of glass houses (green houses) located in the country and right by the beach we were lucky enough to stumble over a vast layout of them right by the beach.

Today, Friday, I took the day to rest and recuperate from information filled week that lay behind me. I am very excited about all that I have seen and learned and am very anxious to begin working in the labs here at UNESCO-IHE. This already has been an incredible experience and it's hard to believe that I have been given the opportunity to stay so long and learn so much.



Reflections on Food

I'll admit it. I didn't have high expectations for Dutch cuisine prior to leaving for this trip, but I am happy to say I have been pleasantly surprised. Our dinner the other night was so incredible, I felt it needed an entry all its own. But that, of course, would be ridiculous. So I will tell about my experience with all food thus far on our journey.

First, the best kind of food is the kind that is free. Almost to the point that it doesn't even matter what it is. But luckily, all the free food we've been very, very lucky enough to receive has been outstanding. (I suppose I should put a disclaimer here, that I am a vegetarian. A pesca-tarian, if you will; that is, I eat fish but no other breathing animal. So my commentary on the nation's meat products will be nonexistent.)

Lunch usually consists of a cheese sandwich, milk, a fruit, and a small dessert. Meat sandwiches are also served with the cheese sandwiches. However, the two don't seem to mix. A sandwich is either meat or cheese. Keep it simple.

Dairy products are very important. I've been very happy each day that I am not a vegan. The cheese itself probably deserves it's own entry. It's creamy, satisfying, and diverse. There are entire stores dedicated to the sale of cheese.
There are also all sorts of pastries, some meat, some cheese, and all sorts of breads. I haven't even begun to explore this area of street food.

Coffee and tea are also an integral part of each day. This isn't so different than the American experience, but still important nonetheless. Especially since it's been so chilly, a warm cup of caffeine is certainly welcome.

I've already commented on pickled herring, but it deserves a revisit. I think it has potential. The next time I eat it, though, it will be wrapped in a bun or another buffer material so the texture isn't so shocking. But millions of taste buds can't be that far off, right?

Of course, I shouldn't be surprised about how excellent the food has been. The Netherlands is one of the leading agricultural nations in the world, and takes great pride in their creations. The land was created (in the beginning) for the sole purpose of creating food, perfected over centuries of cultivation and culination. We've only been here a week, but I'm loving the food so much I've also had to remember how much I love running. And yoga. And biking.

And a huge Thank You to the Florida Earth Foundation for allowing us to eat with you all week. The company, as well as the food, has been outstanding.
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