Saturday, May 8, 2010

Dutch Perspectives...

By Ivy

Friday we were fortunate to tag along with the Florida Earth Foundation's visit to Deltares, a unique non-profit research institute that partners with governments, private companies, and other non-profits. Their work mainly focuses on numerical modeling, with a strong emphasis on applied research.

Although it was our first full day exploring the area, the group we attached ourselves to had been here for a week already, visiting many organizations to get a feel for how the Dutch manage their water systems. As they say reflecting on their week, we were able to get a taste of what we were in store for in the weeks to come.

A few comments and perspectives from the day really jumped out at me, some came from the visiting Americans, and some from the presenters at Deltares:

The first presentation discussed Deltares, their philosophy, their role as researchers and modelers, and what their 'products' are. A few statistics in this presentation were striking. 60% of the country is below sea level, which, as another colleague pointed out, makes it a bit easier to push for flood control policy, as the majority of the population would be directly affected by its consequences. In contrast to the United States, where we have to worry about numerous natural disasters aside from flooding, i.e. hurricanes, earthquakes, snowstorms, tornadoes............ which makes it difficult to focus resources and policy, since the country is so diverse. In the same vein, Deltares runs their models to plan for the next 10000 years; United States models, in particular New Orleans, only run up to 100 years. The longterm planning is easier to do when a majority of the resources can be allocated to this one front.

The other comment was directed to their philosophy of their work. Someone had asked if they patent their models and software that is developed... in reply, the speaker stated very matter of factly: we dont protect our knowledge, we want to share it! which I thought was a great concept in research. I understand the need to protect intellectual property, but how much more could be accomplished by working with each other and off each other's research...

The last speaker talked about SmartSoils, which was something I had never heard of but was fascinated by. Basically, the concept was to inject bacteria, along with various nutrient concoctions into soils that a builder would like to see stabilized (i.e. to build houses on, prevent liquefaction, stabilize beaches). The bacteria processed the nutrients while making calcium carbonate, which precipitated, hardened, and stabilized the soil.

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