Niels Van Putte wins Master Thesis Award

Date: 14 March 2017

Introduction: On March 3, 2017 Niels Van Putte received the VLIZ Master Thesis Award of the Flemish Marine Institute for his work on the tidal marshes along the Schelde.

Niels Van Putte (Global Change Ecology Centre, Research Group Ecosystem Management) investigated the ecosystem functions of restored tidal marshes. Worldwide more and more embanked areas are reclaimed for tidal marsh restoration. However, vegetation development in the newly restored areas is often strongly different from that of the natural neighbors. Moreover, multiple ecosystem functions only slowly pace up in the reclaimed estuarine area. Natural marshes function as water treatment plants along the Schelde: by both the uptake and the release of nutrients, marshes optimize the nitrogen-phosphorus-silicon ratio in the Schelde ecosystem. However, it is not well studied why newly developed marsh areas are so slow to pick up with their natural counterparts.

Earlier studies indicated that groundwater flows are crucial for water quality regulation in natural marshes. It was Niels’ hypothesis that newly restored areas have hampered groundwater functioning. Multiple innovative methods, including soil scans and sediment water flux measurement, were deployed to uncover differences between natural and restored tidal marsh groundwater fluxes.

Niels: “We found that the groundwater movement in a natural marsh along the Schelde infiltrates up to one meter depth, while in the restored tidal marsh (Lippenbroek)  the infiltration is confined to the first 10-40 cm. Centuries of agricultural management has changed the sediment and soil structure, and the conductivity for groundwater flows has diminished. Restoration of the groundwater flows is necessary to attain an optimal marsh filter function.”

Niels is continuing his research as a PhD student. He studies how we can optimize groundwater flows in restored tidal areas. On March 3rd he received his award on the VLIZ Marine Science Day.

Niels (left) shows his newly received VLIZ Master Thesis Award.