The Wadden Sea is the largest backbarrier tidal system in the world and a UNESCO world heritage site because of its ecological significance. It is under increased pressure due to human activities and climate change. A key governing component of the overall system is the exchange of water, salt, nutrients, sediment, larvae, etc. between basins and with the North Sea. Recently, we have shown that the nature of this exchange is very different than previously thought due to the dominant role of the wind, which imposes an enormous variability, with storms having a disproportionately high impact. This view of the Wadden Sea as an event-driven system means that understanding and quantifying the exchanges and transports requires the inclusion of a wide range of forcing conditions over a long time span. In this project, we investigate the exchange between the tidal basins and the North Sea for a 35-year period in the Dutch Wadden Sea. For this, we will develop and apply new tools to quantify the exchange, the flushing characteristics of the basins, and the connectivity in the system. We will analyse results of new long-term numerical simulations of the hydrodynamics to link the variability in the forcing to the exchange and transport in the region. Finally, the results will allow us to estimate how the exchange would be altered under climate change. The results of this project will help to inform protection plans and policy decisions for the region.
The NWO grant is part of the NWO KLEIN Programme. KLEIN grants are intended for realising curiosity-driven, fundamental research of scientific urgency. They offer researchers the possibility to elaborate creative and risky ideas and to realise scientific innovations that can form the basis for the research themes of the future.