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The Warsaw Voice » Society » March 31, 2015
Institute of Geophysics Polish Academy of Science
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All about water
March 31, 2015   
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Floods and droughts, river flow and the spread of pollution are some of the topics studied by the Department of Hydrology and Hydrodynamics of the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Geophysics. The department also studies the impact of climate change on hydrological processes and works to ensure more reliable forecasts of hydrological events.

The department is headed by Prof. Jarosław Napiórkowski. “In a nutshell, what we do is study how water circulates in nature,” says Napiórkowski. “There is a very practical aspect to our research, as it enables forecasts of hydrological processes that affect the lives of people who populate different areas,” says Napiórkowski.

Research by the department, which began in the 1970s, includes water management. After a disastrous flood that hit southwestern Poland in 1997, experts from the Department of Hydrology and Hydrodynamics carefully studied how the flood developed on the NysaKłodzka River, a major tributary of the Oder, the second longest river in Poland. The findings allowed the researchers to propose a decison support system to assist local authorities in decisions regarding the NysaKłodzka River’s catchment in order to reduce flood risks on the Oder River.

The Department of Hydrology and Hydrodynamics has for years studied the Narew River catchment in eastern Poland, between the river’s headwaters and the border of the Narew River National Park. During the communist era, a reservoir called Siemianówka was created in that area to supply drinking water to the nearby city of Białystok. According to Napiórkowski, it is debatable whether the reservoir is still needed. “As far as the Narew River is concerned, floods are actually an advantage. They help preserve the region’s natural assets,” says Napiórkowski. “Flood waters in springtime do not cause any major financial damage and they are extremely beneficial to nature. We have researched the reservoir’s impact on water flows in the upper Narew River valley as well as on the quality of the water itself. We used an experimental method to investigate the transport of pollutant. We put a harmless dye into the water just downstream of the bridge at Suraż (eastern Poland) and then analyzed how it propagates down the river, tracing changes in concentration levels. Our observations continued for 48 hours on a 20-kilometer section of the river.” In another experiment, the researchers put a larger amount of the dye in a section right below the Siemianówka reservoir. Over the following week, they collected water samples on a 90-kilometer stretch of the Narew River at five-minute intervals. It was the largest such experimental project in this part of Europe, resulting in a number of publications, some of which were presented at international conferences in Venice and Vancouver.

The Department of Hydrology and Hydrodynamics also works to refine methods to assess maximum annual flows, using state-of-the-art statistical techniques such as extreme value analysis. The results are used to optimize construction parameters for new hydraulic structures, including river embankments, bridges and dams.

The department has recently been researching flood wave transformations on the Vistula River between the town of Sandomierz and Warsaw. To this end, the researchers have used two of the most popular simulation models, one developed in the Netherlands and one in the United States. The models help them assess flood risks in individual areas, but to do that, the researchers need to analyze the shape of the river bed and other features, such as the bed’s roughness on each section of the river. The bed changes each time the river swells, which is why measurements need to be performed practically every year so that digital maps of the area can be kept up to date. Modern equipment makes forecasts much easier to draw up than several decades ago.

Other research in the Vistula River catchment concerns thermal discharges from power plants and their impact on water quality. The team at the Department of Hydrology and Hydrodynamics also pursue purely experimental research into water flow in rivers to develop models of river bed transformation. Such studies take place in many countries around the world, but they are expensive and time-consuming. They require the involvement of many people, because expensive equipment used in the research cannot be left unattended. The most basic measuring devices, called divers, are submerged in water for up to a year to collect and record data every 15 minutes.

The Department of Hydrology and Hydrodynamics takes part in various international projects and has for many years worked closely with the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate in Oslo, Norway. Projects funded under the Norwegian Financial Mechanism include research on the impact of climate change on extreme hydrological events. The project team, led by Prof. Renata Romanowicz, has been recently joined by two Ethiopian researchers. Napiórkowski says the project team has been gathering data and comparing a range of parameters to identify the common features of drainage basins in Poland and Norway. “We study phenomena that occur in both countries and predict those that might occur as a result of projected climate change over a time span of approximately 80 years,” says Napiórkowski. “We try to estimate the increase of temperature, changes in precipitation and so on. We use the findings and estimates to compile information for policy makers.”

The Department of Hydrology and Hydrodynamics works with three similar institutes in Britain, focusing on water quality research. Experts from Britain took part in experiments that the Polish researchers conducted in the upper Narew River catchment. Since the 1980s, the Department of Hydrology and Hydrodynamics has also worked closely with researchers in Ireland. The department’s members have spent many years in Ireland on internships that have led to a number of frequently quoted articles.

The department has 19 staff members, including 14 researchers, four postgraduate students and one maintenance worker.
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