State-of-the-art artificial river exposes climate secrets

The University of Antwerp presented a unique artificial river during the Open Business Day on 6 October 2019. 

In recent months, several artificial rivers and ponds have been installed in a large, greenhouse-like construction in the Mesodrome on the Campus Drie Eiken in Wilrijk. The centrepiece is unique worldwide: an artificial river with a length of 25 metres. In the river, scientists can recreate the seasons, along with the presence of sediment and plant growth.

The installation is a cooperative project of the ECOBE and SPHERE research groups. They are searching for answers to such questions as: How can we minimise damage to cities like Antwerp resulting from storms and rising sea levels? How can we cope with the increasing frequency of heavy downpours in the summer? Which species of fish will be the winners and losers with regard to climate change?

State of the art
‘During the Open Business Day, visitors were given a tour in the large greenhouse, which measures 1000 m2. We presented our ponds and rivers – raceways, as our scientists call them’, recounts the research manager Freddy Dardenne (UAntwerp). ‘Throughout the entire mesocosm, we are investigating how and why organisms react to pollution and climate change, as well as how currents and tides influence the formation of natural flood plains and shore areas’.

Mesodrome  Mesodrome
The Mesodrome has several artificial rivers and ponds.

The following were also presented in a second state-of-the-art set-up: FATI, a platform of the PLECO research group, which makes it possible to use infrared lamps to raise temperatures in the open air, in addition to using automated weather screens and irrigation to change precipitation regimes. ‘This will allow us to conduct precise tests of the impact of various climate scenarios on grasslands and agricultural crops’.

Society and industry
‘Research platforms like this are essential to making accurate estimates of the effects of climate change and pollution, as well as to suggesting possible solutions to politicians, conservationists and economic stakeholders, including farmers and ports’, concludes Dardenne. ‘Moreover, they are part of a European network (AnaEE), which enhances the visibility and impact of Flemish environmental research’.