Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research
Royal Netherlands
Institute for Sea Research

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Algae create self-organised bedforms on tidal flats, enhancing drainage. Bedforms observed with a drone (left) and simulated in a numerical model (right).

About my work

By training I am a physicist specialised in geophysical fluid dynamics. I have a strong personal interest in biological-physical interactions. Feedbacks between water flow, sediment dynamics and biology often generate complex phenomena with nonlinear (hard to predict) behaviour. To disentangle these phenomena, I develop idealised mathematical models. These models do not account for all processes involved, but only capture the "bare essentials" required to explain the observations. A major advantage of such reduced-complexity models is that they provide more insight into complicated phenomena and that numerical simulations can be done more rapidly and/or with higher spatial resolution.

For my PhD project I am studying the dynamics of intertidal ecosystems, such as tidal flats, salt marshes and mussel beds. Biophysical feedbacks might lead to nonlinear ecosystem dynamics, including critical transitions (ecosystem emergence or collapse) with drastic consequences for ecosystem functioning. The goal of my PhD project is to develop an indicator framework to monitor ongoing and predict future ecosystem changes. This framework will be based on spatial patterns that can self-organise from biophysical feedbacks in the ecosystem. I develop reduced-complexity numerical models that describe such patterns. The model simulations might ultimately serve as a "look-up guide" to inform ecosystem managers.

Apart from developing models, I perform (and highly enjoy) observational and experimental work in the field and laboratory, to test specific model assumptions and outcomes.

You can also follow me on TwitterLinkedIn and ResearchGate.

Comparing numerical model findings to field observations.

Numerically simulated tidal marsh (200m x 200m).

Informing and educating a broader public about our research is a task I highly value. For instance, when the Dutch minister of Education, Science and Culture, Ingrid van Engelshoven, visited NIOZ. Photo by Ernesta Verburg.



van de Vijsel, R. C., van Belzen, J., Bouma, T. J., van der Wal, D., Cusseddu, V., Purkis, S. J., Rietkerk, M., and van de Koppel, J. (2020) Estuarine biofilm patterns: Modern analogues for Precambrian self‐organization. Earth Surf. Process. Landforms