In today’s interview, we have the pleasure of talking with Dr Heidi Kreibich, lecturer at the Geography Department at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and head of the working group “Flood risk and climate adaptation” at the German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ). From her interest in investigating different types of flooding associated with complex physical and anthropogenic processes, achievements and significant contributions, we get to know a bit of the brilliant career that led to her new role as President-elect of the Natural Hazards (NH) Division of the European Geosciences Union (EGU). Heidi will serve as Deputy President for the 2022-2023 term and formally step in as President at the 2023 General Assembly.
Right after the fall of the Wall, I moved to Berlin to study at the Technical University of Berlin. It was a fascinating time right after the reunification of Germany and I learned a lot, not only about environmental engineering.
Hi Heidi, and congratulations on your new role! Could you tell us about your career?
I’m an environmental engineer by training. Right after the fall of the Wall, I moved to Berlin to study at the Technical University of Berlin. It was a fascinating time right after the reunification of Germany, and I learned a lot, not only about environmental engineering. My passion has always been travelling, so I spent more than half a year at CSIRO in Melbourne, Australia, undertaking my diploma thesis (equivalent to a master’s). After that, I started a PhD on nitrogen cycling in the floodplain forests of the Amazon and spent about two years at the National Institute for Amazon Research in Manaus, Brazil. Then, I settled down in Berlin and started working in the Section Hydrology at the German Research Centre for Geosciences, where I have been working ever since.
Since 2015 I have led the working group “Flood risk and climate adaptation” and been a lecturer at the Geography Department at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. Years before, I started to actively support the EGU NH Division, first as a session convener, then as a member of the ECS Award Committee and as editor of the NH Division journal “Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences”, since 2015 as executive editor of NHESS. Since 2017, I have been Science Officer for Natural Hazards & Society. Now I am very excited about the opportunity to soon serve the NH Division as President.
I particularly like this work because these interesting scientific results and the models I’m developing with my team can significantly improve practical flood risk management and climate adaptation.
Reading about your research topic sparked a lot of inspiration in me. What really fascinates you about your research field?
My research focuses mainly on riverine floods. In particular, I work on vulnerability analysis and damage modelling to improve flood risk assessment and management. In this context, I am looking for solutions to societal challenges associated with hydrological extremes under conditions of global change. I find it particularly fascinating to analyse the complex physical and anthropogenic processes that lead to damage in different types of floods and work in such an interdisciplinary field.
I’m particularly proud that I achieved the first quantification of the loss reducing effects of private precautionary measures  and developed, together with an international team, the concept of the cost assessment cycle for continuous, integrated cost assessment in risk management . I particularly like this work because these interesting scientific results and the models I’m developing with my team can significantly improve practical flood risk management and climate adaptation.
The breadth of the research field of natural hazards and the diverse topics we cover in our NH Division are our strengths.
As the field of natural hazards is quite diverse, what contribution can the NH Division make to address the challenges of the field considering climate change?
The breadth of the research field of natural hazards and the diverse topics we cover in our NH Division are our strengths. I firmly believe that truly new and innovative ideas and solutions emerge primarily in interdisciplinary fields and through cooperation between different disciplines . And new approaches are urgently needed given the high dynamicity of socio-economic and climatic change.
Mutual learning is essential in science and practice and leads to success more quickly. So, we in the NH Division can do what we are very good at, which is to be open and interested in all contributions and sessions, to exchange ideas and work together with scientists and practitioners from various disciplines. Let’s use the General Assembly and other opportunities where we meet in person or virtually to learn from each other and jointly develop ideas, projects and solutions to societal challenges related to natural hazards and climate change. In this respect, I think the recently established new sub-divisions of Multi-Hazards and Climate Hazards are fantastic. I wish the new Climate Hazards sub-division good luck and great success.
What would you say to early-career scientists about the importance of being engaged in science communication?
In our current time of fake news and conspiracy theories, we as scientists have a special responsibility to communicate sound scientific results and present possible solutions to pressing societal problems. Therefore, we must strive to translate our results into practice and explain them to the public. There are various channels and possibilities available for this, via social media, the night of science events or other more traditional ways. Everyone should choose the ones that suit them best.
 Kreibich, H., Thieken, A.H., Petrow, Th., Müller, M., and Merz, B. (2005) Flood loss reduction of private households due to building precautionary measures – lessons learned from the Elbe flood in August 2002, Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 5, 117–126. https://doi.org/10.5194/nhess-5-117-2005
 Kreibich, H., van den Bergh, J., Bouwer, L. et al. (2014) Costing natural hazards. Nature Clim Change 4, 303–306. https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2182
 Kreibich, H., de Ruiter, M.C., Goda, K. et al. (2022) Critical research in the water-related multi-hazard field. Nat Sustain 5, 90–91. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-021-00833-0
Post edited by Valeria Cigala