Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research
Royal Netherlands
Institute for Sea Research
Phone number
+31 (0)113 57 7452
Research Leader
  • Remote sensing, Earth Observation and Geo-Information Science; Big Data
  • Coastal, estuarine & delta systems
  • Geomorphology, biogeomorphology, biophysical interactions & benthic ecology
  • Nature based flood defence & ecosystem based solutions
  • Aquatic systems and water quality

Prof. Dr. Daphne van der Wal

Research Leader

View on the coast

Daphne van der Wal – physical geographer at NIOZ and professor at the University of Twente – observes deltas, coasts and estuaries from space and from the air. ‘That can be done via satellites but also with the help of drones. The use of these remote sensing techniques can teach us a lot about coastal defence, water quality and nature conservation.’

Protection against storms

‘Satellites have the advantage that, in many cases, they allow us to look back over several decades. This is because we have a long history of satellite images which have continually observed a piece of the Earth’s surface in the same way. For example, from satellite images, we can see where coastal vegetation, such as saltmarshes and mangroves, has expanded and where plants have disappeared or where their growth was hampered. We analyse satellite images in relation to coastal protection for the Dutch coast, but also for the coast of Louisiana, for example. Together with modellers, we are examining how vegetation attenuate the waves and trap sediments and can reduce the chance of the land becoming flooded during heavy storms. That allows us to learn what the ingredients are for sufficiently strong coastal defences. Such information is becoming increasingly relevant in light of the changing climate and expected increase in extreme weather.

Looking at muddy waters

‘Satellite images are also well suited for studying the quality of the water and the seabed. For example, we examine the interaction between sediment and the algae and animals that live in the water and seabed. This knowledge is important with respect to, for example, the dredging of estuaries for shipping.’

Radar seeks mussel reef

‘We also use radar images; these can observe, for example, the roughness of tidal mudflats. This way, radar can even be used to map mussel and oyster reefs on tidal mudflats. Now we can also make use of techniques like drones. These provide very detailed spatial information.

With all these forms of remote sensing, we are finding out how our coastal systems work and how they adapt to changing conditions and interventions. We are also learning how coastal processes help us, and how we can protect our coasts.’

Read more +

Specialisation & Current positions

I am a physical geographer, specialized in coastal processes (PhD 1999, University of Amsterdam; postdoctoral research fellow 1999 up to 2002 at Royal Holloway, University of London). 

In 2002, I joined NIOO/NIOZ in Yerseke, focusing on remote sensing of tidal (eco)systems.

Since Oct 2017, I am also part-time full professor at the University of Twente, Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation (ITC).

I focus on remote sensing and geo-informatics of coastal and estuarine systems and processes. An overview of my research interests can be found in my inaugural lecture:


Remote sensing of tidal (eco)systems

The central theme of my work is to assess interactions between organisms (such as saltmarshes, algae, shellfish) and their environment, shaping the estuarine, delta and coastal landscape, including both the bottom sediment and the water column.

Current research topics

  • Saltmarsh and mangrove development
  • Solutions for nature-based flood defence
  • Dynamics and management of (intertidal) sediments
  • Structuring and functioning of benthic fauna communities
  • Benthic-pelagic interactions in tidal systems
  • Primary production of tidal flats and waters
  • Suspended sediments and sediment transport in coastal waters

Methods & techniques

I use remote sensing techniques and geo-informatics to investigate coastal and estuarine systems and processes:

  • modelling, statistical analysis (machine learning) and big data analysis with remote sensing data (radar/SAR, optical and TIR satellite data, hyperspectral and LIDAR airborne data, near-surface and field measurements)
  • spatial analyses in Geographical Information Systems (GIS)
  • combination of earth observation with field surveys and experiments, and (hydrodynamic) models


Feature article on saltmarsh erosion and expansion 

Laengner, M.L.; Siteur, K.; van der Wal, D. (2019). Trends in the seaward extent of saltmarshes across Europe from long-term satellite data. Remote Sensing 11(14): 1653.


Selected projects

- STW Perspective AllRisk – Implementing new flood safety norms. Project Foreshore Ecosystems Management. PhD candidate  at NIOZ/RUG: Beatriz Marin Diaz (joint supervision NIOZ/RUG: Tjeerd Bouma, Han Olff, Laura Govers, Daphne van der Wal). See programme overview:

- NWO/NSO Ruimteonderzoek, “Saltmarshes under stress: thresholds for saltmarsh dynamics from global satellite data” (MARSH), PhD candidate at NIOZ: Marieke Laengner, started 2017.

- EU FP7 SPACE - FAST "Foreshore Assessment using Space Technology". Consortium Deltares, University of Cambridge, NIOZ Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, University of Cadiz, GeoEcoMar.  PhD candidate at NIOZ: Bas Oteman,  started 2014 . See Bas' PhD thesis.

- NWO/NSO Ruimteonderzoek: “Benthic diatoms as indicator for ecosystem structuring in shallow tidal waters. PhD candidate at NIOZ Tisja Daggers, started 2013.  See Tisja's PhD thesis.

- NWO/NSO Ruimteonderzoek: "Consequences of global change for ecosystem engineering of shellfish". PhD-candidate at NIOZ Sil Nieuwhof, started 2012. See Sil's PhD thesis.

Feature EU FAST project:

Foreshore Assessment using Space Technology


FAST has developed services to help design nature-based flood risk strategies in foreshores, based on earth observation data and big data analysis capabilities.  The MI SAFE downstream service is currently not online anymore, but the data can be found here and the metadata can be found here

Read more on EU FAST in the associated article on this Copernicus downstream service for coastal needs.

Have a tour around the Danube Delta in Romania, one of the field sites in the EU FAST project!

See our instructional videos on field techniques, for example on the use of sedimentation sensors, as used in Willemsen et al. (2018), Hu et al. (2018), Hu et al. (2017) and Hu et al. (2015).

Watch the instructional video on using the sedimentation sensors:

See also the synthesis of results of the EU FAST project.


MI SAFE tool to calculate wave attenuation over vegetated foreshores around the globe (tool currently not active, but see data here and metadata here).

Linked news

Tuesday 18 May 2021
Grazing by herbivores contributes to coastal protection
Grazing by cows and small herbivores like hare and geese can help reduce the erosion of vulnerable coastal salt marshes and therefore contribute to nature-based coastal defense. This conclusion was published in a peer-reviewed paper by ecological…
Wednesday 17 March 2021
Blueprints for future coastal protection shaped in geological past
The colonization of mudflats and marshes along the Dutch coast by algae and plants, reveals how developing lifeforms changed landscapes on Earth 500 million years ago. Research on these changing landscapes by scientist Roeland van de Vijsel (NIOZ and…
Tuesday 16 March 2021
Up-close and from space: monitoring stress in salt marshes
Salt marshes are not only important habitats for plants and animals, they also offer protection against flooding by damping the waves. Safeguarding these services provided by the marshes starts with monitoring. Possible shifts in this diverse…
Tuesday 23 February 2021
Understanding microscopic life in the sediment in estuaries with satellite images
Intertidal flats in estuaries, like the Oosterschelde and Westerschelde, contain an enormous diversity of microalgae and cyanobacteria. This small life is also called microphytobenthos and is an important food source for shellfish, worms and…
Monday 19 February 2018
Zelforganisatie onderwaterplanten houdt rivieren gezond
Onderwaterplanten spelen een essentiële rol om rivieren en waterlopen gezond te houden. Biologe Loreta Cornacchia van het Koninklijk Instituut voor Onderzoek der Zee (NIOZ) ondervond dat de waterplant sterrenkroos een regelmatig verspreid 'klonterig'…
Friday 09 June 2017
Langzamer herstel kondigt kantelpunten aan in kustecosystemen
~ ENGLISH version below Dutch version ~ Ecosystemen kunnen plotseling verloren gaan wanneer de druk te groot wordt. Het voorspellen van het kantelpunt is dan ook van groot belang. Wiskundige modellen lieten al mogelijke waarschuwingssignalen zien.…

NIOZ publications

Linked projects

FAST_Foreshore assessment using space technology
Daphne van der Wal
European Community
Project duration
1 Jan 2014 - 31 Dec 2017
NWO_BenthicDiatoms as indicators for ecosystem structuring in tidal shallow waters
Daphne van der Wal
Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research
Project duration
1 Jul 2013 - 1 Feb 2018
NWO_Ruimteonderzoek_Consequences of global change for ecosystem engineering of shellfish
Daphne van der Wal
Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research
Project duration
1 Jan 2012 - 30 Aug 2016
MARSH_Saltmarshes under stress
Daphne van der Wal
Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research
Project duration
1 Jul 2016 - 30 Jun 2020