Water and Norway: the Nordic Hydrology Conference in Bergen

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I had the absolute privilege of being able to do graphic recording at a conference on hydrology last week. It touched on a wide range of topics, including (but not limited to): sustainable urban hydrological solutions; groundwater; floods; land-atmosphere interactions; hydrological processes and modelling; climate services; and hydropower. There was a heavy emphasis on urban adaptation and learning to reallocate, trap and conserve, and divert water as necessary in a future influenced by climate change.

I covered three topic sessions with my recordings: (1) Surface water, groundwater and blue-green solutions in urban areas, (2) Groundwater, and (3) Environmental flows, water quality and sediments, as well as talks from the five keynote speakers.

There was a wonderful tour of an old archaeological site in Bergen, called "Bryggen": this is what remains of the city's (wooden) old town, and which has survived or been rebuilt following the city's numerous fires. It has been built on top of reclaimed land - a substrate made of pallets of wood and other miscellany assembled together following each fire (especially a large one in 1702), and sunk into the water offshore to build up new land. This wood and miscellany would have represented daily life, snippets that provide a glimpse into past centuries. It is an archaeological treasure trove that is preserved by the (fresh) groundwater it is immersed in. Too much briney seawater? it can degrade the archaeological site. Exposure to air? The site can oxidize and degrade. So a complex system of swales and rain gardens has been built around the archaeological site to maximize the infiltration of rainwater into the ground, thus keeping the groundwater level high enough to protect it. Thus the archaeology is preserved for future archaeologists to exhume when resources and technologies allow for it to be sufficiently preserved above-water as well. A really cool example of the ways that monitoring and managing urban water flows can help to protect cultural heritage, as well.

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The one topic that felt largely absent at the conference was ecohydrology (though of course this may have been more present in some of the sessions I didn't attend), the study of how ecosystems and organisms react to changes in water flow / temperature / etc. What are the impacts of climate change on ecosystems? What are the impacts of building a hydropower plant on ecosystems? One keynote speaker (Lee Brown) did address this with a talk on studies he and others have conducted in the UK Uplands and in the Alps to better understand the impacts of different flow regimes, and seasonal loss of flow: their findings indicated a wide range of ecological responses, however (measured using macro-invertebrates as indicators), which suggests that there is still a lot to be studied to understand the extent of the impacts. One thing is certain, though: building hydropower, as clean as it may be on a global scale, does have local impacts, and these need to be studied and addressed with great care and awareness.

All in all, though, the conference was fascinating, and a brilliant opportunity to dive deeper into the world of hydrology!