New AXA Chair at VUB on Water Quality Management Granted with €1M
The AXA Research Chair on Water Quality and Global Change, led by VUB professor and hydrologist Ann van Griensven, was officially kicked off at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) on January 18th in the presence of Etienne Bouas-Laurent, CEO of AXA Belgium. Endowed with € 1Mio funded by the AXA Research Fund, the chair will carry out three significant research initiatives to address global water quality challenges in the context of global change.
With the AXA Research Chair, Prof. Ann van Griensven wants to set up a global water quality monitoring network. The collected data will be fed into models which will help governments better manage their policies in this area, bridging the gap between scientists and policy makers.
Rivers, lakes and aquifers are the lifeblood of our planet. They nourish ecosystems, provide clean water, support agriculture, buffer our climate and maintain biodiversity. “Despite this, we dangerously underestimate the urgent threat of water pollution in the context of global climate change,” van Griensven tells us. “This neglect has far-reaching consequences, endangering public health, ecological stability, economic resilience, food security and environmental justice. 50% of child deaths are related to poor water quality. Global strategies are needed to tackle these problems, and the time for action is now as pollution in the context of global change is raising due to the complex interplay between climate change, advancing urbanisation, industrialisation and shifting land use patterns.”
Climate change, with extreme weather conditions and seasonal weather fluctuations, population growth and changes in land use have major long-term consequences for the water quality of rivers, lakes and reservoirs. Deteriorating water quality threatens the environment, our ecosystem services, key economic sectors (drinking water production, fisheries...) and even global health. Scientific studies usually ignore the effects of climate on water quality. To fill that gap, van Griensven wants to create a high-resolution global water quality monitoring network that will allow models to predict the consequences of climate change on water quality. For this, she will collaborate with local scientific and policy partners.
“The new models will allow us to predict water quality parameters, identify pollution sources and protect ecosystem services”, van Griensven says. “But for this we need sufficient data on a global scale. Today there are major differences in the availability of water quality data worldwide. Because of this, water quality remains an invisible problem. We want to address the issue by focusing on better data collection methods, involving local populations. That way we can make the invisible visible.”
Belgian case study in the Scheldt basin
The global network will use low-cost Internet-of-Things (IoT) sensors and will be installed in collaboration with partners. The sensors, currently under development at the VUB, need to determine the temperature, turbidity, electrical conductivity and nitrate and oxygen content of the water. The collected data will be merged with remote sensing data and local observations using artificial intelligence.
The model will be of value not only in foreign countries. A case study will also be carried out in Belgium, more specifically in the Scheldt basin. The Scheldt basin is an important agricultural area, and river transport – including the port of Antwerp – is a vital economic factor. The Scheldt basin also plays a significant role in biodiversity. “However, the area faces environmental problems like pollution from industrial and agricultural activities, and flood management that is gradually becoming a challenge due to climate change,” says van Griensven. “The basin is struggling with habitat degradation from urbanisation, invasive species and water quality issues.”
Over the past 15 years AXA has continuously supported innovative academic research projects in Belgium via its global scientific philanthropy, the AXA Research Fund. The Fund has granted € 9Mio for Belgian projects including various ones related to the environment and climate, which shows the engagement of AXA on climate in Belgium and the quality of the Belgian universities and academics.Etienne Bouas-Laurent CEO of AXA Belgium.
The AXA chairs are our most prestigious, highly competitive funding schemes. We are extremely proud to support Ann’s innovative and concrete approach to the pressing issue of water quality in the context of global change, as 3 billion people are at health risk due to scarce data on water quality, according to UNEP.Julia d’Astorg Director of the AXA Research Fund
Brussels, January 23rd, 2024
Photo Credits : Lumen, 2024