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Research to secure a safe water supply

World Water Day on Sunday, 22 March aims to raise public awareness of the increasing scarcity of clean drinking water on our planet. In a densely populated world, droughts and floods are causing more damage than ever before.

Helmholtz scientists in the research field Earth and Environment are working on solutions to precisely these problems. In cooperation with partners from other countries and in multidisciplinary teams, they are looking at the issue from all angles – from its biological aspects to its economic dimensions and the legal framework.

"Our research is targeted towards clarifying how the different aspects of this question interrelate, and making detailed recommendations on the sustainable management of water as a fundamental natural resource," says Prof. Jürgen Mlynek, President of the Helmholtz Association.

Below we present a selection of the research projects currently in progress at Helmholtz Centres on issues including water management, maintenance of water quality, flood risk management and climate research.


A sustainable water supply for Brasília
Scientists from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) have launched a joint German and Brazilian project to develop system solutions for the various water-related problems in Latin America, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Southeast Asia and the Middle East.
GOODWATER ITN: Specialists for environmentally friendly groundwater management
A new EU research programme, the Goodwater Initial Training Network (ITN), trains specialists in the field of groundwater research and management, imparting cutting-edge scientific skills. The Institute of Groundwater Ecology at the German Research Center for Environmental Health in Munich is one of the institutes at the helm of this project.
Project: Water 2050 – Opportunities for the German Water Industry
A consortium including the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research, the Institute for Social-Ecological Research and the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research is investigating how modern technology can help solve water management problems and how German industry can help achieve water protection goals.
Water in Central Asia – From climate change to water management
The Water in Central Asia (CAWa) research network aims to develop a sustainable cross-border water management system in five Central Asian states and to provide further training for Central Asian specialists in the field. The CAWa consortium includes the Helmholtz Centres AWI and DLR, and is headed by the Helmholtz Centre Potsdam – GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences.
Efficient use of scarce resources: SMART project
Specialists at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research are developing a sustainable water management solution for the area that straddles Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories to secure an adequate supply of drinking water.


"Hot spots" for the degradation of contaminants in groundwater
Groundwater ecologists at the German Research Center for Environmental Health have identified so-called groundwater "hot spots", zones of high microbial activity where contaminants are degraded particularly efficiently.
The changing Elbe
Specialists at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research have shown that both flooding and low water levels could affect the Elbe drainage basin more frequently in future, which would then lead to a higher concentration of contaminants in the water.
Drinking water in Gaza Strip contaminated with high levels of nitrate
Researchers from the University of Heidelberg and the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research have shown that 90 percent of water samples taken from the Gaza Strip contain nitrate concentrations between two and eight times higher than the safe limit recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
New testing procedure for groundwater purification
In 2007 the UFZ and a partner launched a pilot plant at the edge of the old refinery in Leuna, eastern Germany to purify the contaminated groundwater. The joint venture aims to test ways of purifying water through natural attenuation using plants.


Flood loss database HOWAS 21 online
The flood loss database HOWAS 21 was developed by researchers at the Helmholtz Centre Potsdam – GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences with the aim of compiling flood loss data to support research.

New information system for flood protection in Bitterfeld An internet-based decision support system developed by the UFZ enables water levels following a dyke failure to be predicted with greater accuracy. The system also provides information about contamination caused by flooding.

Surface sealing & groundwater UFZ studies have shown that the high land use in Germany has a drastic effect on the groundwater level. The larger the area of sealed surfaces, the greater the risk of flooding.


Regional effects of climate change
Six Helmholtz centres are involved in the most comprehensive research project ever on the long-term effects of climate change at regional level. As part of the large-scale project TERENO (TERrestrial ENvironmental Observatories), a total of four observatories will be set up in Germany to monitor the effects of climate change on local ecosystems and the corresponding effects on the economy.
The monsoons of West African and their consequences
As part of the international research project AMMA (African Monsoon Multidisciplinary Analysis), experts from the Forschungszentrum Karlsruhe are measuring and simulating the monsoons of West African to allow them to develop strategies to secure the drinking water supply and protect farming and the healthcare system.
GKSS invests €12 million in new observation system for the North Sea
The principal goal of the large-scale project COSYNA (Coastal Observation System for Northern and Arctic Seas) is the construction of a long-term observatory for the German parts of the North Sea to monitor, forecast and support scientific research of the present state and development of the coastal waters. The GKSS Research Centre in Geesthacht is coordinating the project.
Ocean acidification and its effects on the marine ecosystem (AWI project)
Emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide not only affect the atmosphere, they can also have drastic consequences for the world's oceans and their ecosystems. Recent studies have revealed increased levels of acidity in our oceans.

The Helmholtz Association contributes to solving major challenges facing society, science and the economy with top scientific achievements in six research fields: Energy, Earth and Environment, Health, Key Technologies, Structure of Matter, Aeronautics, Space and Transport. With 28.000 employees in 15 research centres and an annual budget of approximately 2.4 billion euros, the Helmholtz Association is Germany's largest scientific organisation. Its work follows in the tradition of the great natural scientist Hermann von Helmholtz (1821-1894).

Contacts for the Media:

Thomas Gazlig
Head of Communications and Media Relations
Berlin Office
Anna-Louisa-Karsch-Straße 2
10178 Berlin
Tel./Fax: 030 206 329-57/60
Dr. Antonia Rötger
Press Officer
Tel.: 030 206329-38

Thomas Gazlig | EurekAlert!
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