2020: Working 4NIOZ@Home
Our Ocean, Our Coast, Our Future
Its Springtime, 2021... and this, the NIOZ Annual Report 2020, arrives in your inbox. So.. what about 2020? Well.. for starters, unfortunately COVID-19 still rules the waves... Learning to live and cope with Corona has become both a reality and a challenge for society, the institute, and us, its inhabitants over the past year. And it was tough going. Yet, finally now, step by step, (too) slowly but definitively, in true Zeeland Luctor et emergo-style, we are moving forward in the right direction.
All of us are looking almost desperately forward to firing up the research engines, to plug and play, to perform the so much needed marine science we need as a global society, in many ways. Indeed, after a bit of a false start, the IOC-UNESCO Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 2021-2030 is now underway, and let’s see how we can help to further this cause. Although nobody enjoyed it, the measures we had to take during the various phases of lockdown were professionally organised and executed, clearly communicated, and also accepted and supported by all of NIOZ. As a result, no outbreaks of any kind or size occurred within our walls, and incidents were well handled. My compliments go to each and everyone of our employees, from staff to PhDs, from every corner of the institute, from Texel to Yerseke, and Sint Eustatius, and back, for staying with us in this process, from implementation to keeping station. Every department did everything to keep spirits and morale high, and even at social distance NIOZers managed to stick together, as NIOZers always tend to do. As a result, overall, damage is overseeable, and the institute still performed and performs very well indeed, all things considered. While our new 'Strategy and Science Plan 2020-2025: Our Ocean, Our Coast, Our Future' was embraced by all our stakeholders, including the Dutch Research Council (Dutch acronym NWO), and first steps along its line were taken in 2020, our parallel ‘busines as usual’ scenario produced truly impressive results in terms of output, and new projects granted. Besides the overall successes, for instance of our younger scientists, but also of team efforts spanning multiple departments, also extremely positive was the large variety in sources of funding and programs: from the various NWO grants to ERC and private funds like the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. I dare say that almost all NIOZ Principal Investigators (PIs) were successful in one way or another on these fronts, so please check the long list of granted, active projects on the NIOZ website and social media. Important for our stakeholder cooperation chapter, we celebrated the successful launch and implementation of the second five-year term of the cooperative UU-NIOZ research and education program, and the 13 PhD programs to go with it…and yet more to come in 2021!
Luctor et Emergo
NIOZ was successful in obtaining significant research grants
To highlight just a few major, impressive successes here: the highly competitive (and second) ERC grant to Dr Anja Spang, ‘Archaeal Symbionts in the Evolution of Life’, revolving around single-celled microorganisms, Archaea, that form a major branch in the tree of life, is eye-catching indeed. Another significant success was the granting of our bid to the National large scale scientific infrastructure fund GWI, which was a critical element in our mission to renew the research fleet by a large, national community-wide team led by Prof Dr Gert-Jan Reichart. More insight in these topics and PIs further on in this report. Furthermore, NWO awarded grants to Dr Johan van der Molen and Prof Dr Karline Soetaert for research into the effects of future offshore wind farms on marine life, sediment, and underwater sand waves in the North Sea. The grants are part of the thematic program Ecology and North Sea within the Dutch Research Agenda (Dutch acronym NWA). Moreover, NWO has also funded two other NIOZ research projects of, again, Prof Dr Karline Soetaert and Prof Dr Tjeerd Bouma aimed at innovation within the fishing sector to make fisheries more sustainable. Along another line, NIOZ scientists from multiple departments led by Dr Andi Haas were successful in obtaining one of the two large, pivotal NWO/OCW Netherlands Caribbean grants, securing Caribbean coral research for years to come. Also of note, of course, are major awards or appointments granted to NIOZ PIs. In 2020, former NWO Spinoza Prize winner Prof Dr Theunis Piersma was again bestowed with prestigious prices, like the Goldman Salvin Prize, and the NWO Stairway to Impact Award. Yet another former NWO Spinoza Prize winner Prof Dr Jaap Sinninghe-Damsté was appointed as member of the prestigious Academia Europaea. In addition, Dr Jan van Gils and Dr David Thieltges were appointed honorary professors at Groningen University. Also, our academic output was again most impressive in the 340s with the bulk now as peer-reviewed papers appearing in open access literature. In addition, eleven NIOZ PhD candidates received their respective doctorals in 2020. That number will go up in the next years. Another milestone in 2020 is that NIOZ was successful in finding a new head for our Coastal Systems research department, in the shape of Prof Dr Myron Peck. Originally from the USA, and a long term seat at Hamburg University, Myron became a world leading marine ecologist with matching stripes and many large EU projects to go with it. Myron officially started on September 1st, and we wish him all the very best with this major next step in his career. You can read more about him further on in this report. The Taskforce Research Fleet Renewal, with Alex Cofino (head of the department of National Marine Facilities, NMF) as project coordinator, again made tremendous progress in 2020. Such, that the contracts to build two of the three new ships (the RV Adriaen Coenen and RV Wim Wolff) were signed early 2021. While this annual report is being completed, we are close to the final decisions regarding the third, and bigger ship the RV Anna Weber-van Bosse, implying that indeed, the new ships may become operational by the end of 2022 onwards, to 2024 at the latest.
Implementation of the second five-year term of the cooperative UU-NIOZ research and education program
Turning back to the new strategic plan, and the national role of NIOZ, one element is to further build, and improve national cooperation and coordination through e.g. setting up national research agendas, programs, and associated initiatives. To stimulate the increase of knowledge about biodiversity in the Netherlands, NIOZ has joined forces with three other institutes: Naturalis Biodiversity Center, the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW), and Westerdijk Fungal Biodiversity Institute-KNAW. Together, the four institutes launched a virtual national Centre of Excellence for Netherlands Biodiversity Research, in shorthand: BiodiversityXL. Its aim is to significantly increase integral knowledge of Dutch biodiversity in all environments: on land, in the air, in fresh and salt water, and from genes to entire ecosystems. The new centre also offers a platform for universities and knowledge institutes in the Netherlands to cooperate, and to create a biodiversity hub available to every scientist. Internationally, in addition to our nearby EU partner institutes, NIOZ was active within the European Marine Board (EMB), and within the Partnership for the Observation of the Global Ocean (POGO). The above highlights are just a selection of all the activities and achievements of the institute in 2020, and all of this despite COVID-19! Truly amazing and exceptional. Do check in at www.nioz.nl to read more, and the following pages of course! Again, I thank all of NIOZ for their spirit, energy and passion in reaching our goals in 2020. For me, for NIOZ 2020, ‘It was the worst of times, it was the best of times’ comes to mind, as a twist on Charles Dickens’ famous quote from A Tale of Two Cities. I am confident we will weather the storm and return to ‘a new normal’ any day soon, and see each other not on screens but in real life. Stay safe till then. Henk Brinkhuis, Director April 2021
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