Natural Hazards

Luigi Lombardo

My name is Luigi Lombardo and I am a Post-Doctoral fellow at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology since March 2016. I completed my Ph.D. in 2015 in a co-tutelle programme between the Universities of Palermo (Italy) and Tübingen (Germany). My research interests lies in the area of spatial predictive modeling ranging from primary applications in geomorphology to soils science and hydrology. I joined the EGU early career scientists of the Natural Hazard division (NhET) in 2016. Since then I contributed to the activities of the group and now, together with part of the team we will manage the Natural Hazard blog of the EGU. It goes without saying it, but being Italian, I love cooking and has also worked as a sous chef in my youth.

Natural Groundwater Quality: an underestimated and yet dangerous hazard.

Natural Groundwater Quality: an underestimated and yet dangerous hazard.

Today I have the pleasure to interview Dr. Evangelos Tziritis, a brilliant scientist and a friend. He will talk to us about Natural groundwater quality hazard and its implications. This blog aim is to discuss Natural Hazards. Therefore, today we will focus on the natural component of water quality, disregarding anthropogenic sources. 

Evangelos is a Research Scientist at the Soil and Water Resources Institute of the Hellenic Agricultural Organization “Demeter”. His main research domain is focused on environmental hydrogeochemistry, as well as on other aspects including hydrogeology, aquifer vulnerability, geostatistics, isotope hydrology, water resources management, and environmental monitoring of water reserves. His record of achievements includes more than 10 years of experience in geo-environmental projects of basic and applied research in liaison with private firms, stakeholders, and academia. He has published more than 50 scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals and international conferences.



  1. Today we are going to talk about Natural Groundwater Quality Hazards. What can you tell us about it? How would you define the Natural Groundwater Quality Hazards?

Natural groundwater quality hazards are defined as the natural factors that adversely influence the environmental quality of aquifer systems. In contrast to anthropogenic factors which are purely man-induced (e.g. agricultural or industrial impacts, domestic sewage and wastes, seawater intrusion due to overexploitation, etc), the natural causes are triggered solely by geogenic factors, such as the weathering of geological formations; the impact of diagenetic processes; the influence of geothermal fields, etc.

Groundwater quality is dynamically affected by external (e.g. precipitation) and internal (e.g. lithology) factors, which may alter the initial, potentially pristine, chemical composition of the solution.  Groundwater moving through rocks and soils may pick up a wide range of inorganic compounds including major and minor ions, heavy metals and metalloids, some of which are toxic in certain concentrations (e.g. Cadmium, Selenium, Arsenic, Copper, Boron, Lead, etc). It should be noted that natural hazards define along with other characteristics the hydrogeochemical background on an aquifer system, thus they are not related to contamination (defined as the deviation of the natural background values of a constitute) but rather to a relative enrichment of specific chemical constitutes, which depending on their overall concentrations and unique attributes (e.g. toxicity, bioavailability, etc) may be detrimental to natural and anthropogenic environment.


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Permafrost fever, do we need a doctor?

Permafrost fever, do we need a doctor?

Today we will shed some light on permafrost thanks to Dr. Dmitry (Dima) StreletskiyDima is an Assistant Professor of Geography and International Affairs at the George Washington University. He leads several research grants focusing on various aspects of climate change and its impacts on natural and human systems in the Arctic. Streletskiy is the President Elect of the United Sates Permafrost Association and the Chair of Global Terrestrial Network for Permafrost.

If you want to see some videos on the topic, feel free to check the following links:

Video on youtube from Siberia field class on permafrost and urban sustainability: https://youtu.be/ZlblSd4g4gE

Video on youtube from Alaska field work https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LqYcOiCQOGk

Dima has also agreed on sharing some pictures collected during his research. So, if you are curious, just scroll to the bottom of the interview and enjoy the view!


Hello Dima, could you please briefly define what permafrost is for our audience?

Permafrost plays an important role in global climate change, functioning of arctic ecosystems, and human activities in the cold regions. Permafrost is soil, rock, and any other subsurface earth material that exists at or below 0°C throughout at least two consecutive years, usually for decades up to millennia. Permafrost stands for perennially frozen ground (“existing more than two years”), not permanently frozen.  I think that this is one of the major popular misconceptions about permafrost. Permafrost is not permanent and is a rather dynamic phenomenon, which makes it increasingly relevant in the context of natural hazards. Even more dynamic, is the active layer, the layer overlying the permafrost, which thaws during the summer and refreezes the following winter affecting many biological and hydrological processes in permafrost regions.

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Multi-Natural-Hazards: how can we deal with such complex chain of events?

Multi-Natural-Hazards: how can we deal with such complex chain of events?

Today we have the honor to have Prof. Victor Jetten as our guest. Throughout his career Victor, has been working in modelling of natural hazard and land degradation processes. Starting with biomass and grazing capacity, the effects of logging on the natural rain forest water balance, he then moved to soil erosion and land degradation processes as a result of land use change and overgrazing. He believes that all these processes should not be studied and modeled as separate disciplines but in a much more holistic way. In the context of Natural Disasters stakeholders are confronted with chains of multiple hazards: such an earthquake leading to landslides leading to blockage of river systems leading to flash floods (such as happened in Wenchuan in 2008 and Nepal in 2016). Each subsequent extreme rainfall triggers landslides and extreme erosion, forging possibly more change in these areas than several decades of climate change, and wiping out years of development. Victor thinks science has to be useful for society and his aim is to provide timely and actionable spatial information in disaster preparedness, prevention and response. To this end he develops together with PhD researchers the opensource model openLISEM, that is able to simulate runoff, river discharge, floods, erosion and deposition and debris flows, in an integrated and spatially detailed way.


  1. Today we are going to talk about multi-hydromorphic-hazards. Victor, what can you tell us about it?

We have moved from theory and models to understand processes in nature to the application of that knowledge in a hazards context (as a result of triggers such as extreme weather events or earthquakes). The probability of that event was added, to serve stakeholders better. But things become complicated very rapidly: we almost never know the probability of the event itself, so we exchanged that for the probability of the driving process, which is not the same. Hazards happen at the same time or as a chain of events: the 2008 earthquake in Wenchuan had direct earthquake damage, triggered over 100000 landslides, hundreds of which dammed rivers that potentially led to flash floods. Flash floods are triggered after an el Nino year because the sparse vegetation led to overgrazing. This complexity gives us problems: we have different models for different processes made by separate groups of scientists: geomorphologists look at landslides, hydrologists at flooding (but not so much at sediment in floods and where sediment comes from), erosion is the domain of soil scientists and agriculture (but floods are far downstream), meteorologists focus on the weather part of hazards. This is perfectly natural as each of these are sciences in itself. But now you live on a Caribbean island and are hit by a hurricane. Your house is subject to sea surges, wind damage, flash floods and landslides. These effects are aggravated because of a lack of landscape management that gradually filled up the river channels with sediment. Who will help you? An army of scientists that each speak their own language! And of course the solutions are in spatial planning and governance, which are again separate sciences.


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International Research Projects: what can we learn from CHANGES?

International Research Projects: what can we learn from CHANGES?

Today I have the pleasure to post an interview on International Research Projects. The interviewee, Dr. Cees van Westen, does not need any introduction for those who work in the field on Natural Hazards. Today, he will “speak” as the coordinator of the CHANGES project and further information can be asked directly to him if this interview will stimulate your curiosity (e-mail: c.j.vanwesten@utwente.nl, tel: +31534874263).

 Dr. Cees van Westen obtained MSc in Physical Geography from the University of Amsterdam in 1988. He joined the Division of Applied Geomorphology of ITC in 1988, and specialized in the use of Remote Sensing and Geographic Information Systems for natural hazard and risk assessment. He obtained his PhD in Engineering Geology from the Technical University of Delft in 1993, with a research on “Geographic Information Systems for Landslide Hazard Zonation”.  He is working in the Department of Earth Systems Analysis, and contributes to the research theme 4D-Earth, specifically to Natural Hazards and Disaster Risk Management. Dr. Van Westen has worked on research projects, training courses and consulting projects related to natural hazard and risk assessment in many different countries. From 2005- 2015 he was Director of the United Nations University – ITC Centre on Geoinformation for Disaster Risk Management. From 2010 to 2015 he was Project coordinator of the EU FP7 Marie Curie Initial Training Network “CHANGES” 


1. What can you tell about the CHANGES project? (please click here to navigate to the website)

The name CHANGES stands for “Changing Hydro-meteorological Risks – as Analyzed by a New Generation of European Scientists”. This EU Marie Curie Initial Training Network project, which was running from 2011 to 2015, aimed to develop an advanced understanding of how global changes (related to environmental and climate change as well as socio-economical change) will affect the temporal and spatial patterns of hydro-meteorological hazards and associated risks in Europe; how these changes can be assessed, modelled, and incorporated in sustainable risk management strategies, focusing on spatial planning, emergency preparedness and risk communication.

2. What are the complexities in coordinating such an international project?

First of all the development of a good international consortium is a major challenge. The consortium had to consist of partners from academic and private sector, and should cover certain strategic regions in Europe. The network was very international, and consisted of 11 full partners from the Netherlands, Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria, Poland, Romania and Italy and 6 associate partners of which 5 private companies, from the UK, Spain, Netherlands, Germany, and Italy. The next complicating aspect, after the project was awarded, was to find suitable candidates that fulfilled the criteria established by the MSCA programme. Eventually the network employed a total of 17 young researchers, of which 13 were female and 4 male. They came from all over the world: New Zealand, Germany, Belgium, Slovenia, Romania, Netherlands, Italy, Myanmar, Colombia, USA, Switzerland, Macedonia, China, Iran, Moldova and Argentina. Twelve young researchers were hired for a period of 36 months, and carried out PhD research, whereas the other five were hired for 18 months and worked on the development of a web-based spatial decision support system for the analysis of changing risk. All young researchers have spent a considerable amount of time with other partners in secondments.

The large mobility of the project made it very complex to handle. The young researchers stayed generally with at least two partners for a period of time. Some of the partners were not Universities and for them also other academic partners were involved where the actual PhD defence took place. The contracts with the young researchers was for a period of 3 years, whereas in most of the cases the PhD takes more time, so it was also complex to find follow-up contracts so that all could complete their PhD, which they almost all did. Another complicating issue was the active stakeholders’ participation which required the involvement of organisations that were not partners, and who’s involvement could not be easily controlled.

3. I assume it is difficult to foresee the results of such a complex project when you first apply for a grant. Do you think you have reached the expectations you envisioned when you first applied for CHANGES? If yes, what are the main goals the project has reached in your view? If no, how could have it been improved?

Yes, this was indeed difficult to foresee in terms of the scientific results, but more easily in terms of the expected project results: helping young researchers to develop the right skills in order to become experienced researchers. As the funding in this project all went to the young researchers, and not to the salaries of the existing scientific staff, the scientific results were also obtained through the work of the young researchers. The scientific focus of the project was on a number of topics organized in five themes (work packages). The first objective was to analyse the changes in hydro-meteorological hazards that are expected as a result of environmental changes. Regional and local scale probabilistic hazard assessments for floods, landslides and debris flows were developed for four case study sites (Barcelonnette / Ubaye Valley in France; Buzau County in Romania; Fella River in Italy; and Wieprzówka catchment in Poland). The second objective was to evaluate environmental changes, triggered by global change (including climate change) and interacting with economic development, leading to changes in exposed elements at risk. The third objective was to integrate the techniques for hazard assessment with the results of the exposure and vulnerability analysis, into a platform for Quantitative Risk Assessment (QRA) using multi-hazard risk assessment techniques. The fourth objective focused sustainable risk management strategies, related to spatial planning and emergency preparedness, response and rescue activities. The outcomes were used for risk communication purposes, achieved by designing specific risk visualization and communication tools, aimed at local authorities, planning agencies, civil protection organizations, and also with a component directed to the general public. Most of the objectives that were stated in the proposal were addressed in the PhD research of the young researchers. One of the main challenges in this project was that some researchers were highly depending on the outcomes of others, and as all started at the same time, this caused difficulties for some that were further in the risk assessment and management chain.

4. CHANGES is clearly a rare if not unique project as it involved collaboration, coordination and focus across many different institutions and topics. How does this impact the development of a young researcher?

As the aim of the programme was to support the scientific development of young researchers, the network organized a large series of training events in which also participants from outside of the network were invited. This resulted in a total of 6 professional skill courses, 6 technical skills courses and 5 topical workshops. The project partners and young researchers actively collaborated with other Universities, research projects, NGOs and international organisations. Scientific output of the project was in the form of peer reviewed journal articles and numerous conference papers and abstracts. One of the main outputs of the project was the development of an internet-based Spatial Decision Support System called RiskChanges with the aim to analyse the effect of risk reduction planning alternatives and possible future scenarios related to climate change and landuse changes on reducing the risk now and in the future, and support decision makers in selecting the best alternatives. The project partners and young researchers actively collaborated with other Universities, research projects, NGOs and international organisations. The results of the project were all made available through the project website (http://www.changes-itn.eu/). At the end of the project the International Conference on the Analysis and Management of Changing Risk for Natural Hazards was organized to present and discuss research results in the above mentioned fields. The conference was held on 18 and 19 November, in Padua, Italy.

5. How frequent are this type of projects? Are you planning for applying for something similar in the near future?   

Such large EU networks are certainly not frequent, but are also not impossible to obtain. The competition for such projects is very large though. We were told that there is less than 2% change for such a proposal to get funded. This is also due to the fact that there are no specific thematic call. It is possible to submit a proposal on many different topics, but the selection procedure is very tough. The programme is now called Marie Skłodowska-Curie Innovative Training Networks. It has regular calls, generally once a year. The proposed research training or doctoral programme should respond to well-identified multi- and interdisciplinary needs in scientific and technological research areas, expose the researcher to different sectors, and offer a comprehensive set of transferable skills (such as entrepreneurship and communication). The private sector involvement has to be very significant. Before the CHANGES project most of the partners were also collaborating within a previous network, called Mountain Risk, which was coordinated by Jean-Philippe Malet of the University of Strasbourg. After the Changes project we also tried to get a follow-up project with another partner taken the lead, but this was not funded. I am personally not considering to submit a new proposal in the coming years, as it is a lot of work to coordinate it.