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Javier Martín Vide, director of the Water Research Institute: "Our research institute is unique and strategic"

Javier Martín Vide.

Javier Martín Vide.

Javier Martín Vide on the opening lecture of the series La ciència de l’aigua (The water science). Photo: Roca.

Javier Martín Vide on the opening lecture of the series La ciència de l’aigua (The water science). Photo: Roca.



Javier Martín Vide, professor of Physical Geography, is the new director of the Water Research Institute of the University of Barcelona (UB), an institution that celebrates its tenth anniversary this year. Expert on climatology, climate change, precipitation analysis and climate risk, Martín Vide describes his aims as director of the institute and describes the context in which water studies are developed.


What does the Water Research Institute mean for you?

The Water Research Institute is a very special centre. The UB has fourteen research institutes, but the Water Research Institute is a unique centre because it is a multi-disciplinary institute that gathers experts on different fields of knowledge. From economics (water economics) to law (the water act), biology, geology, chemistry, toxicology, climatology, etc. Art is also present in the Water Research Institute. Precisely, a professor from the Faculty of Fine Arts has recently joined the institute; he studies art manifestations centred on water. The institute gathers a great range of specialities. This is our uniqueness. The rest of UB institutes are clearly focused on one subject area (biomedicine, cosmos, nutrition and food security, cognition, etc.).

In my opinion, a step further must be done. The institute must adopt an interdisciplinary approach. Personally, I distinguish between a multi-disciplinary and an interdisciplinary approach. A multi-disciplinary approach means that different fields of knowledge meet in the institute. But the goal is to integrate all these subject areas. So, it is about looking for interfaces, for meeting points. It has always been said that science advances at the borders. So, joining a microbiologist, a climatologist and an analytical chemist will probably enable to advance knowledge and develop very valuable research studies.

The vice-rector for Research, Innovation and Transfer, Jordi Alberch, affirms that the Water Research Institute is a strategic and unique centre.


What are your objectives as director of the institute?

First, to give visibility to the institute. It has to have a bigger impact on society and mass media. Second, to promote the participation of rising generations in water research. I believe that nowadays, when research resources and funds have been cut, the participation of young researchers in the institute to develop their PhD theses has to be promoted. Then, if we receive funds, we can support the presentation of posters and studies on international conferences. 

Moreover, the institute must increase the number of new agreements signed with institutions and companies. In addition, we aim at leading international shared projects. We are going to work in order to promote shared experiences. The institute already hosts people developing European projects, but we are going to promote the development of shared projects led by researchers at the international level. And, then, to set up imaginative actions about water, which is the nexus.

Finally, another important goal is to host a strategic position on international and national forums. We will work to achieve it.


Is water an element that centres more and more research studies?

Water is more and more present in our changing complex and unforeseeable world. Thirty years ago, we knew that there were two blocs, but today we do not know. Nowadays, a small incident that takes place in any part of the world has a global repercussion. And water is present in nearly every conflict. Water is gaining more and more importance in our changing world. For instance —and this will happen soon—, a conference of the parties (COP) on climate change takes place in Paris in three or four months. We will read a lot about this meeting because the aim of the conference is to reach a binding international political agreement to reduce greenhouse gases emission that causes global warming. The Paris meeting will analyse climate change and water plays a crucial role in it because steam is a greenhouse gas. Climate change will cause severe droughts in those places where there is water shortage (for instance, in the Mediterranean region). On the contrary, water will be probably more abundant in those regions where there are many hydric resources. In other words, the climate change will worse both, water abundance and shortage.

Companies and research institutions are allocating more resources to water. For example, thanks to the analysis developed by chemists to detect substances in water, it has been discovered something that was unimaginable. The water that we consume contains great quantities of substances like antibiotics, corticoids or Viagra. This provides opportunities to set up new studies.


On the opening lecture of the series La ciència de l’aigua (The water science), organised by the UCC+i of the UB, you described different types of water.

From a geographical perspective, first I talked about calmed water, stored in lakes or accumulated under snow. It does not produce any danger or risk. Second, we have turbulent water. Most water in nature is turbulent: clouds are turbulent water; rivers are turbulent water; cascades are turbulent water. Third, extreme water, which is a resource but also a risk: it accompanies storms, torrential rains, avalanches. Fourth, we have scarce water, the one that cannot be seen in the landscape, but it is guessed. For example, scarce water can be guessed in south-western regions of the Iberian Peninsula where there are orchards and vegetation. When you see vegetation, you know that there is underground water. And, finally, there is water in change. What does it mean? In the context of climate change, the water cycle is progressively being strengthened.


Do we have reasons to be worried about the water cycle?

I do not have enough reasons to be optimistic, but I must be positive; positive in the sense of adopting a proactive and dynamic attitude that leads us to work on the correct direction. Due to climate change and the subsequent temperature rise, the water cycle is being altered. What does it mean? It means that more water evaporates from the Earth’s surface, so we have a hotter planet (it is like a pan, when water is heated, it evaporates). However, at the same time, if more water is evaporated and it cannot be accumulated forever in the atmosphere, it has to be returned. The water cycle is being strengthened. What consequences does it have? It has different consequences in each region of the planet.

In some regions, water return can take place in an intense way. In other parts of the planet, the evaporated water does not match the amount of water that is returned. It can happen that more water is evaporated than returned, so the territory becomes a desert. In the case of the Iberian Peninsula, particularly in Western Mediterranean regions, climate models predict that water will be scarcer. Predictions made by the Fabra Observatory indicate that present rains are similar to the ones that occurred one hundred years ago. However, climate models indicate that rains will decrease in the Iberian Peninsula and the Mediterranean during this century. However, in the case they do not decrease, as temperatures will continue increasing, the amount of hydric resources will decrease because a higher amount of water will evaporate.

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