Niko Wanders wins Vening Meinesz prize for research into drought and water reservoirs

16 March 2018

Dr Niko Wanders has been awarded the 2018 Vening Meinesz prize for Earth sciences for his work on the subject of floods and drought in river deltas. The hydrologist based at Utrecht University has won the biennial prize, worth 10,000 euros, for the best research in Earth sciences conducted within six years of completion of a PhD.

Niko Wanders is assistant professor at Utrecht University, where he was awarded his PhD after studying at WUR Wageningen. Having secured a Rubicon grant from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), he spent two years as a post-doc at the acclaimed Princeton University (US). In 2017, he returned to Utrecht, armed with an NWO Veni grant. A decisive factor in winning the Vening Meinesz prize was that Niko Wanders achieved the award-winning work just three years after completing his PhD, which involved research into the behaviour of major rivers. 

He is currently using satellite data to develop a model that attempts to understand how people manage water reservoirs during periods of drought. His hope is to determine the best methods of water management in order to be able to guarantee sustainable water consumption and increasing water availability in the future. Ensuring that there is sufficient fresh water for domestic use, industry and agriculture is a major challenge for society worldwide. Climate change is influencing patterns of precipitation, resulting in periods of extreme drought and floods. For example, Wanders has demonstrated the added value of satellite observations of soil moisture in predicting flooding in major river systems.
He is an active member of the international Earth science community, organising sessions of the AGU for example, the annual meeting of Earth scientists worldwide. He also works as a reviewer for research and various journals. 

Assessment
For the Vening Meinesz Prize, candidates are assessed in terms of their passion for scientific research, independence, output, impact on the research community, creativity in performing their research and, finally, their future career prospects. The selection committee was particularly impressed by this candidate's high level of independence and autonomy. His list of publications features 31 articles in peer-reviewed journals, 12 of these as first author and one in the highly acclaimed Nature Geoscience. He also communicates about his research with a wider public and teaches students in lectures and in fieldwork. 

Vening Meinesz Prize
Niko Wanders was awarded the prize of 10,000 euros at the 14th Dutch Earth Sciences Conference in Veldhoven on 16 March 2018. The prize is intended as funding for research-related costs. NWO awards the prize to the most promising Earth scientist in the early years following their PhD. 
The Vening Meinesz prize was named after one of the pioneers of Dutch Earth sciences and of the NWO itself: Prof Felix Vening Meinesz (1887-1966). This renowned geologist gained fame before World War II for his measurements of gravity at sea conducted during submarine expeditions captured on film. In 1962, he won the Vetlesen prize, similar to the Nobel Prize. He donated the proceeds to NWO to be used for a prize for young Earth scientists. Vening Meinesz was also the director of the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) and paved the way for the founding of ZWO, the forerunner of NWO, after being commissioned by the Dutch government to study the American system of science funding. 

Chairman of the jury Guido van der Werf (l) and Niko Wanders (r)Chairman of the jury Guido van der Werf (l) and Niko Wanders (r)

Source: NWO