Basic research and engineering innovation are the Ying and Yang of modern hydrology. On the one hand we expect from process research in the long run the radical improvement of forecasting and of assessment tools for the engineering practice. On the other hand, one often encounters fundamental problems in practical questions. Substantial progress requires that these two opposites, Ying and Yang, exist in a balanced equilibrium. A continuous and practical testing and application of new methods, as well as a close contact to users (associations, authorities and administration, engineering offices) is necessary to ensure a sustainable practice transfer.
Fundamental challenges occur in catchments of the lower mesoscale (1-200 km²). In systems at this scale, the processes of the water cycle are strongly influenced by the spatial organisation of the landscape: Organised networks of preferential vertical and lateral flow in particular control the quick redistribution of water, sediments, and solutes during storm events. These processes are so far still beyond direct observation techniques or modelling approaches with simple concepts. Due to the small size of such catchments, errors caused by the inadequate description of lateral flow processes cannot yet be “averaged” out.
Our practical research includes therefore
- real time flood forecasting and prediction uncertainty at the lower mesoscale and at the mesoscale, as well as the flood assessment in particular in the light of climate and land use change;
- design of flood retention basins and reservoir storage;
- real-time control of reservoir storages and waterways;
- modelling of contaminant emissions and transport in large river basins and
- transport and dynamics of pesticides and nutrients in rural areas.
Our basic research focuses on
- the development of improved model concepts for the description of flow and transport processes in heterogeneous structured landscapes. This includes transport in the unsaturated zone, erosion and flooding;
- the development of improved field observation strategies and integration of geo-ecological data to characterize hydrological systems and their organisation at different levels of scale;
- the development and optimisation of methods for the measurement and characterization of rainfall, soil moisture, runoff and snow;
- the development of metrics for hydrological similarity and forecast uncertainty;
- the search for organisation principles to explain the spatio-temporal organisation of the water cycle and of landscapes.