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Floods: understanding, monitoring and anticipating

Hydrology.

Western Europe has been hit by days of torrential rain and flooding. Several teams of researchers are monitoring flood events from the ground to the sky.

Why do heavy rains and floods occur? Can we predict such disasters? Where does Research Luxembourg stand?

The Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) environmental researchers use their interdisciplinary skills in hydrology, hydrogeology and remote sensing for extremely precise flood monitoring.

What caused the devastating flood events?

Heavy rainfall leads to what is known as flash flooding. In this case, a lot of rain falls locally in a very short time. So much that the soil surface is quickly saturated with water and the rest of the rain can no longer drain away. This results in flooding. Such a situation can also happen after a dry period of several weeks. But when too much rain falls at the same time, the water does not have time to reach the deeper layers of the soil.

The recent situation is different. It is not just a local phenomenon affecting individual villages, but a large region that spans several countries. The weather has been rather erratic and rainy for weeks, and rain has been falling heavily and continuously. The soils are saturated from the ground up. All the rain can hardly infiltrate or be absorbed by the soil.

“Flash floods are very difficult to predict. Especially because they occur locally and at extremely short notice. This is also where the greatest need for research still exists.”

“The frequency of such localised weather events has increased in recent years. And we assume it will continue to increase, even though the observation series are still too short for making valid statistical assessments.”


Prof. Dr. Habil. Laurent Pfister

Head of the Environmental Sensing and Modelling unit at LIST

In the Greater Region, warm and humid air masses from the Mediterranean collided with colder air masses from the Atlantic. This strong contrast eventually led to very heavy rainfall and flooding.

Collecting water pathways data to anticipate extreme events

Data collected on water pathways (infiltration into the soil, surface runoff, water residence time) are particularly relevant to better understand and anticipate extreme hydrometeorological events like floods.

“By improving our knowledge of the catchment areas’ functioning, their capacity to collect, store and redistribute rainwater, we will be able to better anticipate their response to increasingly significant climatic and anthropogenic forcing.”

Prof. Dr. Habil. Laurent Pfister
Head of the Environmental Sensing and Modelling unit at LIST

Since 1995, LIST has gradually implemented a rather unique hydro-meteorological observatory – consisting of nearly twenty nested catchments of different sizes and physiographic characteristics (geology, soil type, land use, topography), all monitored every 15 minutes for a plethora of meteorological variables, river discharge, and groundwater levels.

The observatory has become a testbed for exploring the potential for new technologies and protocols to overcome technological limitations and bottlenecks that have eventually stymied progress in water resources research for decades.

The tested innovations span from telecommunication microwave links for measuring precipitation, thermal IR imagery for mapping saturated area dynamics, portable mass spectrometers for measuring in the field stable isotopes of O and H in water, passive samplers for deriving seasonal sequences of flood event loads, terrestrial diatoms as hydrological tracers of the onset/cessation of surface runoff, to the use of freshwater mussels to reconstruct decades of signatures of stable isotopes of O in stream water.

Thanks to this dense observation network, the LIST environmental researchers have been able to exploit hydrometeorological data series dating back more than two decades – thereby demonstrating the decisive role of the geological substrates and their contrasting degrees of permeability – and thus water storage capacity – in the genesis of floods.

This information will be pivotal in the assessment of the country’s water resources resilience to global change.

Discover more about LIST Environmental Sensing and Modelling unit

LIST researchers have developed the HASARD® software, an unprecedented tool for generating real-time flood maps on a global scale. Read more about HASARD®.

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Green Bonds: Why life cycle assessment is useful?

Green bonds have emerged as a key instrument to fund projects contributing to climate change mitigation or environmental protection. Yet, there is currently no consistent, robust and comparable standard for estimating the environmental impacts of green bonds. This may hamper the growth of sustainable finance. Using life cycle assessment (LCA) can provide a comprehensive environmental…

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Bicycle sharing: researching its impact in urban areas

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Smart mobility: What does the future hold?

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Industrial & Service Transformation Latest news Sustainable & Responsible Development

Green Bonds: Why life cycle assessment is useful?

Green bonds have emerged as a key instrument to fund projects contributing to climate change mitigation or environmental protection. Yet, there is currently no consistent, robust and comparable standard for estimating the environmental impacts of green bonds. This may hamper the growth of sustainable finance. Using life cycle assessment (LCA) can provide a comprehensive environmental assessment of projects throughout their life cycle.

In an in an open access paper, researchers from the Environmental Research and Innovation (ERIN) department of the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) examined how effective green bonds are at decarbonising the economy and if there are potential unseen side effects.

Data scarcity and heterogeneity

Undoubtedly, green bonds play an increasing role in financing investments for development and climate transition.

As no global standard exists to report information, a number of initiatives emerged to reduce the risk of greenwashing and increase transparency. They include the Green Bond Principles (GBP), the Climate Bond Initiative or approved verifiers. In addition, it is market practice that issuers hire a second-party opinion provider to check and rate the green bond issuance from an environmental perspective. Despite these efforts, the industry remains self-regulated.

In this context of data scarcity and heterogeneity in use of proceeds, is there any potential for LCA to support a more robust reporting framework? If yes, how does it compare to conventional accounting? And finally, beyond carbon accounting, can LCA give any indication of wider environmental sustainability consequences?

To limit the increase in global average temperature to 2 °C, funds directed towards sustainable projects need to increase substantially.

Lack of appropriate indicators and metrics increase the risk of greenwashing and present a lost opportunity to direct funds towards the most suitable projects.

Technologies on a level playing field and wider inclusion of environmental impacts

Following a life cycle perspective to assess the environmental impacts of a green bond is useful for two reasons. First, it puts technologies on a level playing field. Indeed, some technologies have relatively low emissions during the use phase but at the cost of relatively higher emissions during the construction or end-of-life phase.

Second, linking projects to LCA databases allows for the inclusion of environmental impacts beyond greenhouse gas emissions. While some investors may only be interested in climate change mitigation, others may want to achieve climate change mitigation with as little cost to other environmental goals as possible.

Box and whisker plot showing the improvement (positive) or deterioration (negative) in various environmental indicators relative to the LCA marginal mix reference case, per million euro invested in the Climate Awareness Bonds’ pool, by technology. The box delineates the lower and upper quartiles with the median marked with a line, whiskers show smallest and largest values.

Life cycle assessment-based rules may prove the right tool to measure sustainability

The recently agreed-upon EU framework for sustainable finance explicitly requires economic activities to provide a ‘substantial contribution’ to one of the six listed environmental objectives while not doing ‘significant harm’ to any of the other environmental objectives for the economic activity to be deemed ‘environmentally sustainable’.

The draft proposal for the EU Ecolabel for Financial Products states that bond funds must show a share of 70% in fixed-income instruments that align with the Taxonomy to receive the EU Ecolabel. As elements of this framework become legally binding in the future through delegated acts, conducting this kind of assessment over multiple indicators may become necessary.

In this context, LCA and the ready infrastructure of LCA databases and methodologies can provide the tools to meet future reporting requirements.

Meet the researchers

Thomas Gibon
 Ioana-Ştefania Popescu
Claudia Hitaj
Claudio Petucco
Enrico Benetto

Extracts from Shades of green: life cycle assessment of renewable energy projects financed through green bonds. Letter by Thomas Gibon et al 2020 Environ. Res. Lett. 15 104045

This research is part of LIST REFUND project.

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Latest news Sustainable & Responsible Development

Bicycle sharing: researching its impact in urban areas

Growth of bicycle sharing has been facilitated by technological and market innovation as well as the capital to promote and develop the schemes

June 3rd is World Bicycle Day, a day intended to promote cycling for sport and health, but also to encourage its many possible social, equity, and environmental outcomes.

The concept of bicycle sharing systems were
defined in the 60’s

Researcher Cyrille Médard De Chardon of the Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research (LISER) recent book chapter entitled “Bicycle Sharing” was published in May 2021 in the 1st edition of the “International Encyclopedia of Transportation”. In his chapter, Cyrille describes the recent history of bicycle sharing systems (BSS), of which Luxembourg City and Esch’s current systems (launched in 2008/2009) were early adopters.

While the BSS concept was defined in the 60’s, their presence has become common in medium and large urban cores, particularly in Europe, the United States and Eastern China. Growth has been facilitated by technological and market innovation providing automated self-service, through the association of users to bicycles, as well as the capital to promote and develop the schemes. However, while bicycle sharing is accepted as convenient and facilitating first and last-mile transportation, overstated or contradictory impacts relating to equity, health, environmental sustainability, road congestion, and success exist.

“While an exciting development, the overall evaluation of BSS is that they are at best somewhat useful for some and at worst a distraction. Given the existing carbon emission and ecological crises, pro-cycling initiatives, such as BSS, new cycle tracks outside cities, or new paint delineating urban cycling spaces, are insufficient as long as they are an alternative rather than one means of automobility replacement.”

Cyrille Médard De Chardon
© 100komma7

Research Profile

Cyrille holds a PhD in Science and Geography from the Université catholique de Louvain and University of Luxembourg (under the supervision of Geoffrey Caruso and Isabelle Thomas). His dissertation focused on a mixed-mehtods evaluation of the potential and impacts of bicycle sharing systems, as well as the politics and purposes of these new and highly promoted means of urban transportation. His dissertation was awarded the 2017 PhD award by the Network on European Communications and Transport Activity Research (NECTAR).

His current research interests are evaluating Smart City initiatives, smart-mobility, studying new urban mobility structures and governance types, car-free cities, and the potential of sensors for citizen empowerment.

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About Luxembourg Sustainable & Responsible Development

Smart mobility: What does the future hold?

The EU aims to have three million electric vehicle charging points and 1,000 hydrogen filling stations in operation across the continent by 2030. In this context, automated mobility will be deployed at large scale with digitalisation fuelling increasingly multi-modal transportation options. Luxembourg offers mobility innovators a real life laboratory. Here they can test new solutions which will contribute to improving quality of life, safety, environmental and climate protection.

Transport is the connecting backbone of Europe’s citizens and businesses. With digital, we have an opportunity to change the way we get around, making our mobility smarter, more efficient, and more environmentally friendly. When it comes to mobility, innovation spans a wide range of areas from vehicles through electric and hydrogen-based powertrains to autonomous driving. In this regard, Luxembourg turns out to be the ideal location for developing and testing next-gen mobility solutions for the whole European market.

Luxembourg, a diverse, connected ecosystem for mobility innovation

The country’s mix of established automotive industry, leading research laboratories, and entrepreneurially minded talent combine to make it the most exciting mobility testing ground in Europe.

Companies working on such innovations have a place where they can test them on the roads. Thanks to Luxembourg network of thoroughfares and its automotive and ICT ecosystems, the Grand Duchy is the most dynamic location in Europe.

Case in point: “Stroum beweegt – Elektresch an d’Zukunft”, namely electric power moves – electricity into the future, brings together the various public and private players committed to electric mobility in Luxembourg. The initiative aims to support and advance the development of the electromobility market in Luxembourg and to overcome existing obstacles. Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology is part of the country’s initiative with five successful projects.

CONNECTING project relies on a complex simulation model and an analysis of the environmental life cycle to analyse the effects of political decisions on private mobility in Luxembourg and Lorraine.
eCoBus focuses on the development of an integrated control system based on a cooperative intelligent transport system (C-ITS), which coordinates electric buses, electric charging infrastructure and control traffic.
gENESiS project gives rise to two services / objectives for distinct potential target users: a) An energy management system, including modulation of EV charging, for owners of smart sustainable buildings; b) An optimal multi-period energy flow tool for a distribution grid operator, in order to provide optimal operating flexibility from various controllable assets, including electric vehicles.
HERMES provides an appropriate decision support tool for the territories in order to assess the medium-term consequences of mobility policies.
MODALES aims to study the correlation between driving behaviour and vehicle emissions from three sources: the powertrain, brake wear and tyre wear.

All in all, Luxembourg has built a diverse, connected ecosystem of large companies, start-ups and research laboratories making smart mobility a reality.

SnT’s 360 Lab, the first thematic research laboratory focusing on smart mobility

With the 360Lab, the Interdisciplinary Research Centre for Security, Reliability and Trust (SnT) of the University of Luxembourg is an important part of Luxembourg’s smart mobility ecosystem.

The purpose of the 360Lab is to serve as an umbrella for research projects sharing common equipment and complementary expertise. The objective is to conduct strategic and collaborative research in the broader area of mobility innovation.

“Our research centre conducts impact-oriented research. This includes projects with industrial partners — both large and small companies, as well as projects and ideas that are long-term and high risk.”

Prof. Raphaël Frank, Head of SnT’s 360Lab

In his lab, researchers are exploring the most suitable solutions for tomorrow’s automated vehicles while testing them with their unique self-driving car.

Raphaël Frank in the 360Lab


Overall, the PhD students work on these projects within a 3-4 year time horizon. Thanks to this framework, they have time to publish relevant research results, as well as to create value for the companies they work with.

How SnT spin-off company Motion-S makes the most of mobility data

SnT spin-off company Motion-S is a leading data-driven behavior analytics solution provider in the mobility ecosystem. As a partner for companies from multiple industries, it provides them with the most advanced, accurate, and customised solution on the market.

The Motion-S mobility analytics platform transforms raw location and car data from smartphones, simple trackers, databases, or car data platforms into actionable insights. As such it provides a deep understanding of individual mobility patterns. Thanks to predictive analytics fleet managers, insurers, OEMs, smart mobility operators, public authorities, and transportation providers can optimise their offer and improve their value propositions.

“[In this ecosystem, we get] the support from industrial partners. All our projects, prototypes and proofs of concept have been developed and launched in Luxembourg, with Luxembourgish companies.”

German Castignani, SnT Research Fellow, CEO and co-founder of Motion-S

Find out more about SnT’s 360Lab

Discover Stroum beweegt – Elektresch an d’Zukunft initiative

Categories
Latest news Sustainable & Responsible Development

How climate change and environment change affect vegetation and water resources

How plants interact with the environment.

How do plants interact with the environment? Does vegetation a role to play in water resources?

How climate change and environmental change in general may affect vegetation and water resources? What our landscapes may look like in 100 years’ time?

Stan Schymanski and his team analyse the impact of climate change on our water resources. Vegetation plays a key role.

Plants act as a link between groundwater and the atmosphere

Plants absorb water through their roots. Water reaches the plant’s leaves and is released into the air through the stomata. Stomata are small openings on the upper and lower sides of leaves. They allow the exchange of water and carbon dioxide (CO2). When the stomata are open, the plant can receive CO2 and at the same time expel water. Stan Schymanski and his team are studying the connection between this process and the relationship between CO2 in the air and the amount of water in the soil.

Our research is meant to help make predictions about climate change and environmental change, if possible before major mistakes are made.”

— Dr Stan Schymanski, LIST

How the level of CO2 in the atmosphere affects plants’ growth and groundwater?

When fossil fuels are burned, the amount of CO2 in the air increases. Plants react much faster to this change than the world climate. When the level of CO2 in the air is high, plants do not need to open their stomata as much to absorb the amount of CO2 needed for photosynthesis and growth. As a result, it releases less water into the air. What is not yet clear are the consequences, positive or negative, of the water content in the soil.

Will the water table be preserved, because each plant will have a reduced consumption? Or will plant growth be stimulated by the water available, resulting in a lowering of the water table?

Building a model to predict future changes

To address these concerns, Stan Schymanski and his team want to develop a leaf model. To do this, they need sensors that react to their environment as sensitively as leaves do. In addition to simulating the reaction of leaves to CO2 levels in the air, they also need to reproduce natural factors such as wind speed or surface temperature. Modelling is expected to predict changes in vegetation and groundwater as a result of increasing atmospheric CO2 concentration. The model could also predict the influence of the water table on vegetation.

Dr Stan Schymanski leads the WAVE project

With this model, we hope to better understand where a plant places its leaves, what properties the leaves have in different positions. Once we understand these principles, the idea is to build a model that converts knowledge into predictions.”

— Dr Stan Schymanski, LIST

Biologist Stan Schymanski has come to Luxembourg thanks to an FNR ATTRACT Fellowship. At the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST), he leads the WAVE (Water and Vegetation in a Changing Environment) research team.

Watch his video:

With the ATTRACT programme, the National Research Fund supports young scientists with up to 2 million euros over a period of five years. ATTRACT aims to bring in researchers who will play a leading role in their field of research. ATTRACT Fellows can set up their own team within a research institution in Luxembourg.