19. January 2024 | Press releases:

Strategies for dealing with extreme marine events and natural hazards Third DAM research mission mareXtreme launched with TU Braunschweig participation

The third research mission of the German Marine Research Alliance (DAM) “mareXtreme” started on 1 January 2024: Over the next three years, some 150 scientists from a total of 29 research institutions and partner organisations will investigate how to improve risk management for extreme marine events and natural hazards. In doing so, they will address highly topical research issues that are relevant to society. The METAscales project, coordinated by TU Braunschweig, is also part of the mission and aims to improve forecasting capabilities for physical oceanographic risks. The mareXtreme research mission is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the science ministries of the northern German states (Bremen, Hamburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Niedersachsen, Schleswig-Holstein) with a total of around €20 million.

Under the acronym mareXtreme, around 150 scientists are researching strategies for dealing with extreme marine events and natural hazards. Photo credit: Unsplash/Marcus Woodbridge

Coastal areas and communities are increasingly exposed to marine natural hazards and extreme events – with mostly regional, but also far-reaching global consequences. These include floods and storm surges, which often cause enormous damage to coastal buildings and infrastructure, as was the case in Germany in 2023. Heat waves in the oceans as a result of climate change can trigger increased growth of micro-organisms that are harmful to humans and animals, leading to mass fish kills, for example. In other parts of the world, tsunamis triggered by earthquakes or volcanic eruptions are causing massive flooding and coastal disasters. Individual extreme events and natural hazards can be exacerbated when they occur simultaneously or in rapid succession and interact with each other, leading to cascading, far-reaching socio-economic impacts. The interactions of these often multiple extreme events and natural hazards and their long-term impacts on marine ecosystems and coastal populations are the focus of the third inter- and transdisciplinary DAM research mission, mareXtreme. Sociopolitical frameworks are an integral part of the mission’s research activities.

The aim of mareXtreme is to significantly improve the ability to predict extreme marine events and natural hazards, to support the sustainable development of coastal communities and to strengthen the resilience of coastal societies. As in the first two DAM research missions CDRmare and sustainMare, mareXtreme will bring together researchers from different disciplines in close collaboration with stakeholders from politics, business and civil society. The aim is to develop socially reflective, solution-oriented knowledge for action – and thus enable science-based decisions in dealing with extreme marine events and natural hazards. “In the course of human-induced climate change, extreme events in and around the sea that threaten ecosystems and us humans are becoming more and more likely – the last few months have clearly shown this,” explains Dr Joachim Harms, Chairman of the DAM Executive Board. “We need new protective measures and a new way of thinking for the sustainable development of the oceans and coasts. DAM’s mareXtreme research mission is intended to help make this possible.”

Research for better early warning and resilience

Nowhere is the world’s population growing faster than along the coasts. High population density, increasing urbanisation and the associated intensive economic use of these regions are leading to increasing vulnerability to extreme marine events and natural hazards. These are usually driving or triggering processes that cannot be directly influenced. The development of adaptation measures and socially anchored, institutionalised strategies and measures to limit or prevent damage, such as awareness raising or early warning systems, is therefore particularly important to increase the resilience of society and coastal ecosystems.

The DAM research mission mareXtreme aims to develop efficient monitoring and early warning systems. Based on high-resolution, innovative observations and models, it should be possible to quantify the probabilities and intensities of occurrence, as well as the impacts and consequences of extreme marine events and natural hazards in different scenarios. At the same time, a participatory process is used to explore different options for adaptation, prevention, protection and risk management.

The mareXtreme mission focuses on marine geo risks, marine biological risks and physical oceanographic risks, bundled in four joint projects and directly linked to current and regional hazards and challenges:

  • ElbeXtreme investigates the impact of physical oceanographic extreme events on ecosystem services in the Elbe estuary coastal system; coordination: Eric Achterberg, GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel.
  • METAscales investigates the impacts of and adaptation strategies to future physical oceanographic extreme scenarios on German coasts; coordination: Gabriel David, Technische Universität Braunschweig, Leichtweiß Institute of Hydraulic Engineering.
  • MULTI-MAREX develops improved options for action and forecasting for multiple extreme geomarine events such as seaquakes and tsunamis in the Mediterranean; coordination: Heidrun Kopp, GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel.
  • PrimePrevention explores ways of predicting biological hazards for the German coasts in order to prevent socio-economic impacts; coordination: Katja Metfies, Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research.

Coastal disaster risk management

The METAscales project, coordinated by TU Braunschweig, aims to quantify potential damage and losses from extreme physical oceanographic scenarios and to improve disaster risk reduction strategies. The overall goal is to increase the resilience of coastal communities. This will be achieved by developing common approaches to coastal planning, protection and disaster risk management. This will include collaborative real-world laboratories with key stakeholders from coastal communities and authorities.

“METAscales addresses the interactions between extreme marine events and natural hazards and their impacts on coastal society – at different spatial, temporal and systemic scales. Therefore, we are not only researching short-term solutions and recommendations for action, but also want to actively support the transformation of German adaptation to climate change,” says project coordinator Dr Gabriel David. “TU Braunschweig plays an important role within the project and the mission. In addition to project coordination, it provides expertise from two departments of the Leichtweiß Institute of Hydraulic Engineering and, as a member of DAM through the Coastal Research Centre, can thus prominently position and further develop our work in the field of strategic climate change adaptation, risk analysis and nature-based solutions.” The project’s focus on the impacts and management of climate change and transdisciplinary research is also one of the core themes of the City of the Future research priority. “Through our involvement in this research priority, we hope to generate additional added value in both directions, i.e. from the City of the Future to German marine research and vice versa.”