22. July 2021 | Press releases:

Science Minister Björn Thümler accompanies research trip of the “Gute Küste Niedersachsen” project Research network of three universities shows "real-world laboratory" for ecosystem-strengthening coastal protection near Spiekeroog

What is a good coast where we can live and economise in a sustainable and responsible way, safe from natural hazards, in harmony with nature and embedded in the evolved cultural landscape? This is the central question addressed by the project “Gute Küste Niedersachsen” (Good Coast Lower Saxony), a research association of Leibniz University Hannover (spokesperson), the University of Oldenburg and Technische Universität Braunschweig. The project is currently running an extensive summer measurement campaign on the North Sea coast, which Lower Saxony’s Minister for Science and Culture, Björn Thümler, has now been informed about. Those responsible for the project explained to Björn Thümler on 22 July 2021 on the research boat Otzum the measuring activities in the Harle, the sea inlet between Wangerooge and Spiekeroog, and the Otzumer Balje, the sea inlet between Spiekeroog and Langeoog. The elaborate data collection serves to record and describe typical effects of swell and tidal currents and the transport processes triggered by them.

“For Lower Saxony, with a coastline of around 750 km, coastal protection is one of the central issues,” says Lower Saxony’s Science Minister Björn Thümler. “The recent flood events in the south and west of Germany have shown us once again how dependent people are on protective structures. The effects of the climate crisis are now being felt everywhere and pose particular challenges for these structures. I am therefore pleased that scientists in the ‘Gute Küste’ network have already taken up these highly relevant topics in the context of transdisciplinary research and in combination with research into sustainable solutions. Effective coastal protection and intact nature do not have to be a contradiction. That is why the state is funding the project with five million euros from the Niedersächsisches Vorab.”

Against the backdrop of climate change, the scientists of the three universities are developing extensive possibilities for action and management in coastal protection in demand-oriented research together with the responsible state enterprises and the population. The area around Spiekeroog is one of the “real-world labs” within the project. The background to the measurements there is the planned renewal of a large coastal protection structure, a groyne, in the Harle. The measurement campaign serves to better understand the flow conditions in the near field of the groyne and to investigate whether, for example, pollutants accumulate at certain points. In direct comparison with the measurements in the unobstructed Seegatt, the project team wants to get an overview of the current environmental condition in order to draw conclusions of the triggered changes.

“By closely involving the relevant authorities, civil society and leading research institutions, the foundations are to be laid for our research questions not only to meet with acceptance during the conception and implementation of complementary, ecosystem-promoting measures, but also to generate reciprocal knowledge and, if necessary, even to find widespread imitation beyond the borders of Lower Saxony once the project is over,” explains spokesperson Prof. Dr.-Ing. Torsten Schlurmann from the Ludwig Franzius Institute of Hydraulic, Estuarine and Coastal Engineering (LuFi) at Leibniz University Hannover (LUH).

“With the help of innovative technologies and measurement strategies that we use at the Spiekeroog Coastal Observatory, we provide a sound data basis for developing and evaluating measures for ecologically sustainable coastal protection,” says Prof. Dr. Oliver Zielinski, head of the Marine Sensor Systems working group at the Institute for Chemistry and Biology of the Marine Environment (ICBM) at the University of Oldenburg. “The surface drifters we have developed enable us, for example, to investigate the influence of coastal protection structures on the complex current conditions in the Wadden Sea,” adds ICBM scientist Dr. Thomas Badewien.

Together with the local authorities such as the Wilhelmshaven Waterways and Shipping Authority (WSA) and the Lower Saxony State Agency for Water Management, Coastal Protection and Nature Conservation (NLWKN), the National Park Administration and various nature conservation associations, concepts will then be developed for how the groyne can be designed in the future to strengthen both coastal protection and the protection of the ecosystem. “The interactions between our coastal protection works and the surrounding nature, such as salt marshes, stretches of dunes and tidal flats, must be thought of more holistically than before. The goal is harmony between infrastructure, human and nature,” says Prof. Dr.-Ing. Nils Goseberg from the Leichtweiß-Institute for Hydraulic Engineering and Water Resources at Technische Universität Braunschweig.

The summer measurement campaign 2021 is part of the work package “Observation and Analysis” within “Gute Küste Niedersachsen”. In order to understand the interactions between the coastal protection elements, the tidal flats and the North Sea, both permanent measurements and individual campaigns at different times of the year are necessary. Institutes of the LUH, the University of Oldenburg and TU Braunschweig are involved in the measurements off Spiekeroog. In addition to our own measuring boats Otzum and Seekatze, the research catamaran Egidora of Kiel University is also involved.

The joint project “Gute Küste Niedersachsen”, funded with five million euros from the Niedersächsisches Vorab of the Volkswagen Foundation, deals with the area of tension in which people in coastal regions have always found themselves, as Dr. Jan Visscher, senior engineer at the Ludwig Franzius Institute in Hanover, explains: “How can we protect ourselves from the power of the sea and at the same time use its resources and preserve its valuable ecological functions?” Today, the wealth of experience is reflected in the discipline of coastal engineering and is enshrined in law in general plans for coastal protection. In addition to the protection of habitats and economic areas, the question of coastal protection that strengthens ecosystems is increasingly arising. In the real-world labs of “Gute Küste Niedersachsen”, exposed dyke sections or dyke forelands are investigated. These are supplemented by ecosystem-enhancing elements and systems such as salt marshes or seagrass meadows in order to establish regulating ecosystem services such as wave attenuation or sediment accumulation and at the same time investigate their effects.