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Division of Water and Environment

About the division

About the division

Our research aims at developing tools and methods for ensuring a sustainable environment for people and natural ecosystems. Particular emphasis is on water and soil systems including both natural environments and technical systems. In many places, the ecological state of natural water and soil environments is under pressure due to increased urbanization. The associated negative impacts include urban flooding, public health risks and pollution of receiving water bodies and soil. In addition, climate change and emerging pollutants pose new challenges for the research fields.

The research and education is characterized by a strong experimental and applied profile. The approach is highly interdisciplinary employing aspects of urban hydrology, environmental chemistry, soil physics etc. The division is responsible for several well-equipped laboratories and field stations for conducting experimental work in lab, pilot and full scale. In addition, numerical model tools are widely applied for analyzing and simulating transport and transformation processes in water, soil and in the atmosphere.

Most of our research activities are externally funded and we have strong national and international collaborations with research institutions, private companies and the public sector. The research findings are primarily communicated in internationally recognized peer-reviewed research journals. Our dedicated professors, researchers and lecturers are all experts in their respective field of study and have a high publication rate. The research activities are organized in three very active research groups.

Research groups

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    Urban Pollution

    We are an internationally leading research group within the area of biological and chemical process engineering of sewer networks. Focus is on urban polluted waters, their treatment and interactions with the environment. Based on experimental investigations, the research aims at developing fundamental knowledge to solve pertinent environmental pollution issues.

    The group has – based on its fundamental insight in sewer processes and technologies – been involved in a great number of international scientific programs and several R&D engineering projects in both Denmark and abroad. The group has an extensive publication record in terms of books, reports and papers published in international recognized journals and proceedings.

    The scientific work within the group is aimed at engineering applications. At present, the main scientific topics in focus include:

    Microplastic pollution of the environment

    Microplastics represent a diverse group of emerging pollutants, which has received a great deal of media attention in recent years. A major part of the microplastic pollution enters the environment via urban polluted water. The ultimate goal of the research is to develop solutions to the microplastic problem.

    The current research activities are focused on developing robust and reliable methods for microplastic analysis in all types of environmental samples (water, wastewater, biota, food, soil, sediments, biosolids, air, etc.). The methods are applied in projects aiming at quantifying the loads of microplastics into the natural environment; e.g., via wastewater and stormwater discharges, and via application of biosolids to agricultural land. As an integrated part of this work, the group also study the physical, chemical, and biological breakdown of microplastics in the environment.

    Stormwater management

    Urban and highway drainage makes up a problem for city and municipal engineers but is also a potential in terms of “water in the city”. Chemical and biological process engineering of both combined sewer overflows and stormwater runoff from urban areas and highways are central activities at the Urban Pollution research group.

    Several research projects focusing on treatment of urban and highway runoff combined with the development of solutions that improve the recreational and ecological value of stormwater systems while achieving cost-effective solutions have been conducted over the years. We work on all levels of detail, focusing both on transport and transformation pathways for specific pollutants such as organic micro-pollutants and heavy metals as well as on full-scale implementation of best management practices.

    In-sewer processes

    The sewer systems are among the most important and valuable assets of a modern society. These systems are responsible for the safe management of urban wastewaters by providing a hygienic barrier against pathogenic microorganisms. However, sewers are typically designed exclusively for collection and conveyance of polluted water with little or no attention given to the microbiological and chemical processes taking place in biofilms, sediments and the wastewater itself. The consequence is in many cases severe problems in terms of odor, corrosion and health risks associated with build-up of toxic sewer gases.

    A focal element of the research conducted by the Urban Pollution group is in-sewer processes with particular emphasis on hydrogen sulfide related problems, sulfide control technologies and integrated wastewater treatment design – taking into account the interactions between sewers and treatment plants. The group has pioneered this research area and is today world-leading experts. Based on more than 25 years of research, the group has established a conceptual understanding of the chemical and biological processes in sewers. A corresponding integrated sewer process model WATS (Wastewater Aerobic/anaerobic Transformations in Sewers) has been developed by the group.

    See the group's research activities

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    Urban Soil

    We conduct research and research-based teaching with focus on water, gas, and chemical transport and fate in soil and groundwater systems. Our research and teaching include local-area infiltration of rainwater during climate change scenarios, vadose zone infiltration and recharge of groundwater under both urban and cultivated land areas, quantification of soil physical and hydrological processes across temporal and spatial scales, as well as evaluation of risk scenarios for present and future groundwater resources.

    We are part of the AAU Arctic Center and we presently explore how to use local glacial rock flour to improve arctic soil physical, chemical, and mechanical functions; with focus on and a number of project locations in Southern Greenland. We investigate fundamental mass transport properties (air, oxygen, moisture, and heat) in soils and sustainable building materials in close collaboration with the departments Architectural Engineering section. We also have a tight collaboration on both research and teaching with private consulting companies including WatsonC.

    See the group's research activities

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    Urban Water

    We work with water in urban, rural and marine areas. Our focus is on the movement of water from the time when the drops are formed in the atmosphere until the water ends up in the ocean as well as the often-related transport of dissolved and particulate matters. The research group works both theoretically, experimentally and mathematically with these issues. We have extensive equipment for both field research and laboratory research. Focus is on evaluating the effects of the human-induced impact on the local urban environment and the more distant open environment.

    In the past 15 years, we have also worked with atmospheric processes in especially wind and rain, and their correlation with climatic conditions in the city. As such, we have two state-of-the-art weather radars specifically built for measuring atmospheric conditions over cities. 

    We are involved in a large number of national and international research and development projects ranging widely both geographically and subject wise.

    Examples of research activities:

    • Nowcasting of extreme precipitation over cities.
    • Flooding modelling in cities.
    • Analysis of wind climate and microclimate in cities.
    • Warning systems for assessment of the quality of bathing water.
    • Recipient effect modelling in lakes, streams and ocean. 
    • IoT sensor systems in the urban hydrologic cycle.
    • Machine learning application in the hydrological and environmental areas.
    • Surface runoff from green areas in cities.
    • Sediment transport in marine areas.
    • Analysis of stream hydrology and morphology.
    •  Development of storm warning systems for offshore oil installations.

    The research group works interdisciplinary and is often a part of collaborations concerning triple and quadruple helix models of innovation. We work both with research as well as with collaboration and implementation of new knowledge together with private and public corporations.

    See the group's research activities

Head of division