Dr. Jana Friedrich (Department Aquatic Nutrient Cycles) has received a special award. With the award of the Order of Cultural Merit of Romania in the field of science for the support of Romanian research and for the essential participation in the development and strategy of DANUBIUS-RI, her commitment was recognized by the Romanian President Klaus-Werner Iohannis.
Congratulations! We are very happy with her about the well-deserved award and have asked her to tell us a bit more about the background. Starting from the very beginning to the current state of the DANUBIUS-RI project, it has been a journey that required convinced commitment, tireless energy and perseverance.
I was surprised and thrilled about being granted with this high award. I am feeling deeply honored and touched that the highest representative of a country is appreciating my professional commitment. Other members of the international core team of DANUBIUS were awarded as well. How did it come about?
My collaboration with Romanian researchers started more than 20 years ago, when I was working at Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology. Funded by the European Union and Switzerland, we jointly explored the effects of eutrophication (surplus of nitrogen and phosphorus from human activities, channeled and transported by the Danube) on the Danube Delta and the western Black Sea shelf ecosystems. The realization that the ecosystem collapse in the Black Sea in the 1980s had its roots to a large extend thousands of kilometers upstream in the catchment of the Danube river in middle Europe, as a result of our lifestyles at the expense of nature, led to the idea to bring research in rivers and seas together.
Only by a joint perspective on rivers and seas, and by bringing scientific tools, scientists and stakeholders together, it would be possible to relate downstream effects to its distant upstream causes, to understand how these interconnected environments like rivers and seas are functioning. The ultimate goal would be to devise solutions for ecological and economical sustainable management for use and protection of rivers, estuaries, deltas and seas for present and future generations.
This gave rise to the idea to develop new and integrate existing capacities, and fill gaps along the knowledge chain of observation – analytics – modeling and socio-economic impact assessments, from the river source to the sea in Europe and make it available to users from science, environmental policy making, business and environmental agencies. Many efforts are already undertaken by environmental agencies, river and sea commissions. We do not intend to duplicate their efforts. On the contrary, we aim at collaborating and creating synergies.
Over a period of more than 10 years, we developed the innovative concept for such a Research Infrastructure, called “The International Centre for Advanced Studies on River-Sea Systems, DANUBIUS-RI” with a team of 27 partners from 16 countries. The acceptance of this innovative projects led by Romania as a Roadmap project of the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) in 2016, against all odds, was a huge success.
Now we are implementing and putting the research infrastructure together, which requires finding the financial resources, developing technical solutions and scientific, organizational and legal structures and attract the support of existing institutions. If all works well, we aim at making DANUBIUS-RI operational in 2024, under the lead of Romania, and with components in many European countries along their big river-sea systems. In the magazine ‘In2Science’ Adrian Stanica, the leader of DANUBIUS-RI, and I introduced the concept.
I was one of the key driving forces in that team lead by Romanian colleagues, who developed this concept. Then, as a lead author, I coordinated the development of the interdisciplinary “Science and Innovation Agenda” for DANUBIUS-RI from scratch in a 3-year process, together with 27 European partners. This Science Agenda, launched in late 2019, represents the strategy and the rational for the technical design of this Europe-wide research infrastructure.
DANUBIUS-RI’s mission is to offer co-designed state-of-the art interconnected facilities and expertise on remote and in-situ observation systems, experimental facilities, laboratories for analysis, modeling tools and resources on socio-economic impact assessment, along with commonly agreed standards, with the goal of facilitating river-source-to-sea science across Europe; to provide knowledge and solutions in support of sustainable use and protection of river-sea continua.
To achieve this joint goal requires good networking to get key expertise on board, working together well over long distances and across various mentalities. It took perseverance, high frustration tolerance, persuasion and professionalism to get the concept accepted. We are still facing quite some reservation andmistrust against this concept even internally at HZG,. There are quite different perceptions and expectations of what a research infrastructure should be and should provide. People sometimes have difficulties to see the scientific and social-ecological benefits of investing in such a complex and long-term activity. That doesn’t make it easier, as you can imagine.
So, why do I invest my time in setting DANUBIUS-RI up, in parallel to my day-to-day business, despite set-backs and frustrations? First of all, I am convinced that the challenges ahead of us, in terms of balancing use and protection of the environment and its natural capital in times of climate change and increasing human pressures, require new ways of how and with whom we are doing environmental research, to achieve the ultimate goal to come up with informed solutions for sustainable management, eventually. Of course, at the same time it is also fun to work towards a joint goal with kindred spirits in our international team.
HZG is one of the key partners in DANBUBIUS-RI, and coordinates one of its components, the Elbe-North Sea Supersite (a case study site and living lab), with the research pontoon in the Elbe River at Tesperhude (FOPLATES) being an important part of it. Enthusiastic and tireless co-workers in the development and implementation of DANUBIUS since many years are Volker Dzaak, Peter Heininger, and Sina Bold, who also coordinates setting up the research pontoon in Tesperhude. Joanna Staneva and Johannes Pein are engaged in the modeling part of DANUBIUS-RI. In developing the Elbe North-Sea Supersite with partners at BAW and BfG, and collaborators e.g. at HPA, BUKEA and the university Hamburg, we are joining forces and creating synergies with other research infrastructure initiatives like MOSES and COSYNA to work towards the common goal. There is still quite some way to go.
Footnote: For explanation: The European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) is a strategic instrument to develop the scientific integration of Europe and to strengthen its international outreach. Its Roadmap for research infrastructures for the next 10-20 years stimulates the implementation of these facilities.