Education and PhD program

Our department is highly active in several teaching programmes, notably: the M.Sc. Amsterdam Water Science; IVM’s multi-disciplinary MSc Environment and Resource Management, including the disciplinary specialisation ‘Climate and Water Policy’, and the BSc. and MSc. programmes in Earth Science and Economics. In 2015, we will be co–hosting a new PhD cooperation with partners in Germany and Austria. This program is targeted at PhD candidates in the field of hydrology and climate, to improve their knowledge of natural hazard risk management. The department regularly organises an internal Brown Bag Lecture Series to discuss new research findings of the group. We are an active member of the Netherlands Research School for Socio-economic and Natural Sciences of the Environment (SENSE) New members of the teaching staff undergo the full didactic training programme of the VU. Teaching evaluations of our staff are usually well above the average evaluation grades of both the faculty and the university.

PhD program
The Department of Water and Climate Risk develops methods for the analysis of risk related to water and climate. The focus is on water and climate extremes such as floods and droughts, to estimate impacts from these extremes on various economic sectors, and to examine which strategies can be developed to reduce impacts and risk. This requires the mapping of climate and water related hazards, as well as the exposure of people and assets and their vulnerability, and estimating associated costs to reduce risk. Risk management and risk transfer strategies are evaluated in the context of both developed and developing countries. Model simulations, data processing, data assimilation and the integration of economic instruments, such as insurance, are key scientific strengths of the department. 


The PhD program of the WCR Department of IVM consists of four main research lines or specialisations: (1) Global Water and Climate risk; (2) Risk Modelling and e-Science; (3) Risk-Based Decision Making and Adaptation; and (4) Climate Modelling and Extreme Events. The PhD program covers a range of water and climate themes, including method development for computer based simulations of water hazards, risk assessment, decision making and data processing and e-Science. The department WCR has a strong international orientation with a large network in Europe, Asia and the USA, as well as many links in Africa, and South America. There are many collaboration activities with colleague universities and institutes from all over the world.


Research lines and application themes: The four research lines (vertical bars) of the department of water and climate risk and example of application areas (horizontal bars)

Global Water and Climate Risk
The research line Global Water and Climate Risk is led by Dr. Philip Ward. Our research is at the forefront of the development of methods and tools to quantify global scale water- and climate risks, both flood and drought related. We have developed the state-of-the-art global scale flood risk model, GLOFRIS, and are currently developing new models to assess global scale drought risk. We focus on the simulation of current risk, future risk under scenarios of climate change and socioeconomic development, and temporal shifts in risk due to interannual climate variability. The models are constantly updated and improved, incorporating the newest scientific knowledge on natural hazards, exposure, and vulnerability, generated by our PhD researchers. The research also involves developing methods to validate global models, assessing the costs and benefits of various large scale adaptation strategies, and visualising and communicating risk to stakeholders. Next to fundamental research, we work together with a large range of users and stakeholders, to develop risk-based information for use in policy and practice related studies. Examples include projects for the World Bank, OECD/GWP, World Resources Institute, the reinsurance industry via Risk Prediction Initiative 2.0, and Deltares.

Global Water and Climate Risk

Climate variability and flood risk: Simulating the impacts of El Niño and La Niña on global flood risk (Ward et al., 2014, PNAS)

Risk modelling and e-Science
The research line on Risk Modelling and e-Science is led by Dr. Hans de Moel. Research focuses on developing computer based risk models for simulating water and climate risks. These are coupled models, integrating (1) climate-hydrological hazard models to simulate water and climate hazard extremes with (2) damage and catastrophe models. These models can be validated with empirical damage and loss data, for example from the (re-) insurance industry. Hazard models enable us to simulate flood extent and depth, and periods of droughts and water shortage, and include HBV, STREAM, and GLOFRIS. For climate information, data is derived from RACMO or re-analysis data from ISIMIP. For our catastrophe models, we used advanced damage curves, showing the impacts of water and climate extremes on buildings, infrastructure, and loss of life. In addition, we apply disaster impact models to model the economy-wide (indirect) effects of natural disasters and the economic consequences of failure of critical infrastructure due to a natural disaster. Empirical data on actual losses due to water and climate risk are very important; they can be used to validate our damage and catastrophe models. We therefore apply novel e-Science techniques for data assimilation in our catastrophe models. We use information from social media (Twitter, texting, etc) to validate our catastrophe models in their capacity to perform forecasts of potential losses. In our research, our close relations with the insurance industry are very important. For example, we apply the empirical loss data from the NATCAT database from Munich RE in our research.

Risk Modelling and e-Science
Drought Management in Eastern Africa: Developing sustainable sand dams in Kenya and Ethiopia

Risk Based Decision Making and Adaptation
The research line Risk Based Decision Making and Adaptation is led by Prof. Jeroen Aerts and Ralph Lasage. Research aims at assessing measures and/or strategies to manage or reduce risk. For example, flood risk can be reduced by many measures, such as building flood protection in the form of dikes and levees to reduce the chance of a flood, or by using spatial planning and building codes to reduce the impacts of floods on buildings and infrastructure. Similarly, adaptation options are available to reduce drought risk, such as the development of water storage facilities, water pricing, and demand management. The department has international experience in analysing insurance schemes to cover residual risk from water and climate extremes. Research also addresses how insurance can be linked to risk reduction and management. We apply several categories of techniques in our PhD research to support risk based decision making in adapting to water and climate extremes: (1) Measures are evaluated using cost benefits analysis, multi-criteria analysis, uncertainty assessment,, and robust decision making techniques such as flexible pathways; and (2) Agent based modelling techniques are used to cover behavioural aspects of stakeholders in adapting to water and climate risk. For example, our models enable us to simulate the effects of investments in flood and drought management by the government, households and insurers, and how these investments and decisions interact.


Risk-Based Decision Making and Adaptation

Simulating stakeholder risk management: Applying Agent Based Modelling for managing flood and drought risk.

Climate Modelling and Extreme Events
Climate modelling and climate data are essential for simulating hydrological extremes, such as floods and droughts, in our hazard and risk models. This research line is led by Prof. Bart van den Hurk, who has a part-time position IVM on behalf of KNMI (Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute), where he leads the R&D group on weather and climate modelling. The research deals with understanding and diagnosing the degree to which land surface processes affect the regional climate, both via direct interaction with the overlying atmosphere, and via effects on the regional atmospheric circulation. We use different sources of climate information: (1) historical climate data are often derived from re-analysis data such as ISIMIP; (2) climate change projections or scenarios of the future are derived from global climate models or regional climate models (e.g. RACMO), but must be processed to tailor the projections to the scale and resolutions needed for our risk and catastrophe models. We work at different scales, varying from the local city scale, to regional river basins, and our global flood and drought risk models.

Climate Modelling and Extreme Events

Climate and water risk mapping:Extreme precipitation and flooding in Central Europe. Summer 2013 (Left) with our key partnerKNMI(Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute)


As part of the PhD program, students are admitted to PhD courses, organised by the Research School for Socio-Economic and Natural Sciences of the Environment (SENSE). IVM hosts both the director and a number of core leaders of the SENSE program. Next to these courses, there are various possibilities for following specific courses outside SENSE.

Doing a PhD in Water and Climate Risk
The department offers high quality PhD supervision and attracts numerous national and international PhD students every year. All PhD students are supervised by at least one professor and one senior researcher. Most of the PhD students are employed on projects, including projects funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) and the European Union (FP7 and Horizon 2020). A PhD student at IVM is embedded in an international atmosphere, as we host over 50 PhD students and other students from all over the world. Another feature is the interdisciplinary character of the institute. PhD students at IVM study environmental policy analysis and governance, geography, and environmental economy (see PhD programs of other departments). A substantial share of the PhD students also bring their own funding, either scholarships from their own country or from international organisations such as NUFFIC and EU (Marie Curie Program). There are also external PhD students, carrying out their PhD part-time while working elsewhere. A pre-requisite to be able to participate in the department’s PhD program is the availability of funding. Once enrolled in the PhD program, the student will automatically become a member of the SENSE Research School for Socio-Economic and Natural Sciences of the Environment, and be able to follow the wide range of courses this research school offers.

For more information or applications, please contact Prof. Jeroen Aerts  jeroen