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“Security is One of the Most Important Concerns of Society Today” – New “WaterHub” aims to facilitate the networking of research on Water water extremes

Künstlerische Darstellung von Wasser
Prof. Thorsten Wagener, Ph.D. im Interview.
Photo : AdobeStock/Leigh Prather
Photo : Kevin Ryl
Prof. Thorsten Wagener, Ph.D. im Interview.

Two thirds of the Earth’s surface are covered by water. It dominates our everyday lives, even if we do not always notice it. But there is trouble if there is too much or too little of it. Heavy rainfall producing floods or even flash floods can have just as devastating an impact as prolonged droughts. Extreme events such as the heatwave summer of 2018 or the flood in the Ahr Valley may become more frequent in the course of climate change, but quite certainly with even more serious consequences than in the past since we populate our planet more densely and more extensively than ever before. For this reason, the “water researchers” at the University of Potsdam want to examine such extremes more closely – together with local institutions. A platform that connects researchers and facilitates exchange with political and social stakeholders is intended to aid in this endeavor. Matthias Zimmermann spoke to hydrologist Prof. Dr. Thorsten Wagener about the goals and tasks of this “WaterHub”.

In the future, a “WaterHub” is planned in Potsdam. What for?

The Hub will bring together researchers of different disciplines across the University of Potsdam as well as affiliated researchers from connected world-class research institutions. With the Potsdam WaterHub, we aim to provide a dynamic platform and support researchers from all faculties and disciplines in their effort to network, exchange ideas, and develop innovative and interdisciplinary collaborations to jointly address the increasingly complex water issues that the world is currently facing.

In addition, our goal is to enter into a dialogue on relevant water issues with the interested public, media representatives, political decision-makers, and business and industry managers. Through our research and innovation, we want to contribute to sustainable solutions and to the adaptation to global change.

Why is now the time for such a center?

Over 771 million people currently lack access to adequate and safe drinking water. Floods and droughts pose increasing hazards and risks to our society. Ensuring water security today and in the future is a key concern for our society. One driver of water insecurity is an increase in hydrometeorological extremes associated with climate and land use change, but poor water governance and unequal access to water-related services, which renders millions of households unsafe. Today’s challenges regarding water are a highly complex result of interdependent political, social, technological, and biophysical processes and drivers in the face of an uncertain future. Such complex challenges require even deeper exchange and collaboration among researchers across disciplines.

What exactly will happen there?

The “WaterHub” will offer researchers working on water-related topics the opportunity to exchange ideas, network, develop new ideas and proposals, and publish their research through a newsletter, regular university and public events, and social media channels.

What makes Potsdam’s water research special?

We cover a broad spectrum excellently. The University of Potsdam does basic research on processes relating to extreme events – for example Prof. Bronstert, Prof. Oswald, Dr. Heistermann or Prof. Korup – and we do research that examines the impacts of these extremes on our society, for example Prof. Thieken or Dr Bubeck. We also have research in other areas relevant for understanding the water problem that such as governance, biodiversity, or health. We therefore broadly cover the areas influencing or being influenced by water extremes, which we need to connect better.

In addition, we have strong connections with affiliated external research institutions of the Leibniz and Helmholtz Foundations. The University of Potsdam has many affiliated professors and private lecturers who further strengthen our research and teaching. Renowned researchers such as Professors Johan Rockström, Sabine Attinger, Bruno Merz, Christian Kuhlicke or Kirstin Thonicke are involved in this work and already collaborate in many projects.

Will the hub have its own physical home as well?

The hub will primarily be a virtual center but will have an office and staff in the new building 32 on the campus in Golm.

When will you start?

We hope to be able to move in soon so that we can get started. In the meantime, we already established the first Twitter account to promote water research from the University of Potsdam and affiliated partners (@UniPotsdamWater).


More on Twitter: @UniPotsdamWater

The Researcher

Prof. Thorsten Wagener, Ph.D. studied civil engineering at the University of Siegen, TU Delft (Netherlands) and Imperial College London (UK). He has held professorships at the Pennsylvania State University (USA) and the University of Bristol (UK). Since January 2021, he has been the Alexander von Humboldt Professor for Hydrologic Systems at the University of Potsdam.
Mail: thorsten.wageneruni-potsdamde


This text appears in the university magazine Portal Wissen - Zwei 2023 „Exzellenz (PDF).