Knowledge centre

Future Research Topics

Future research will continue to focus on the environment and sustainable dredging methods and equipment, with an emphasis on the threats of climate change.
Research & Development and innovation in the dredging industry has never been more important. It is ongoing and especially focused on sustainable development and the consequences of climate change. This includes flooding caused by sea-level rise and the reduction of CO2 emissions by dredging vessels, as well as the disposal and treatment of contaminated sediments.

Paris Agreement on Climate Change

On 5 October 2016, the threshold for entry into force of the Paris Agreement was achieved. The Paris Agreement is part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This means that as of November 4, 2016 the Paris Agreement has entered into force. The work programme for climate change, biodiversity, CO2 emissions reduction and other issues caused by sea-level rise are now in effect amongst the countries that have ratified the agreement and are ready to be implemented. The Paris Agreement’s central aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Additionally, the agreement aims to strengthen the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change. To reach these goals, appropriate financial flows, a new technology framework and an enhanced capacity building framework will be put in place, thus supporting action by developing countries and the most vulnerable countries, in line with their own national objectives. The Agreement also provides for enhanced transparency of action and support through a more robust transparency framework.

Reduction of CO2 emissions

In the past, various agreements to reduce CO2 emissions in order to slow down or reverse global warming have had consequences for the maritime industries in general and the dredging industry in particular. Dredging companies and shipbuilders who supply the industry with custom-designed and built dredging vessels have been and will continue to conduct R&D and trials to provide clean fuels and improve fuel efficiency. Reducing fuel consumption by fuel-efficiency methods, the pros and cons of electric power and LNG, and the use of low sulphur fuels are all topics to consider.

Ecosystem Services

Ecosystem Services is emerging as a tool to balance economic expansion with environmental protection and enhancements. Recent studies at the University of Antwerp, Belgium have sought to assemble data specifically applicable to the dredging industry. This research is ongoing and the industry is further pursuing ways in which Ecosystem Services can be practically implemented. This can ultimately offer an agreed, standardised method of evaluation based on a monetary value, which puts all human activities on the same playing field and gives a “cumulative effects” analysis. This will help project owners and the dredging industry to implement actionable solutions.

Building with Nature

Building with Nature, Engineering with Nature and Working with Nature

The “Building with Nature” approach has become institutionalised at the research institute EcoShape.nl. Building with Nature (BwN) supports innovative research for hydraulic engineering infrastructure development. It is a partnership between private industry and government to seek alternatives to traditional engineering solutions. BwN starts from the natural system and makes use of nature's services. It attempts to meet society's needs for infrastructure and to create room for nature development at the same time. Research at EcoShape will continue on how to include natural components in infrastructure designs, and to be flexible and adaptable to environmental conditions. “Engineering with Nature” (EwN), from the US Army Corps of Engineers and “Working with Nature” (WwN) from PIANC are related programmes, which also address the importance of linking dredging operations with nature. “Engineering with Nature” is the US Army Corps of Engineers’ programme which looks for sustainable solutions. EwN intentionally aligns of natural and engineering processes to efficiently and sustainably deliver economic, environmental, and social benefits through collaborative processes when building maritime infrastructure projects. The “Working with Nature” philosophy developed by PIANC proposes to look at a dredging project in a non-traditional way. Instead of developing a design and then assessing its environmental impacts, an approach which inevitably revolves around damage limitation and is ultimately not sustainable, Working with Nature advocates the following steps: Read more
  1. Establish project need and objectives;
  2. Understand the environment;
  3. Make meaningful use of stakeholder engagement and thus identify win-win options for all parties; and
  4. Prepare project proposals/design to benefit navigation and nature.
All three programmes aim to combine the need for awareness of the environment with the need for economic progress using new research and the application of new operational methods.

Flood prevention

Flood prevention in specific coastal areas and in river basins, deltas and estuaries, and the protection of wetlands, including mangroves and corals, have required and continue to demand research. This includes innovative monitoring systems to limit potential environmental damage.

Contaminated sediment measurement and treatment

Industrialised nations as well as emerging countries with increased port and water transportation facilities are faced with contaminated sediment issues. The issues that arise include:
  • dredging methods that do not spread contamination, and
  • disposal of such sediments in a way that does no harm to the surroundings.

Dredging methods

Seeking new ways to dredge in ways that do not spread contamination is at the forefront of research for the industry. This includes finding new and more accurate monitoring systems.

Safe disposal methods

Finding safe ways of disposal of contaminated sediments includes:
  • improving Confined Placement Facilities (CDFs);
  • finding new methods for the treatment of dredged material solids before placement in a CDF or being prepared for reuse;
  • and developing other control measures, such as secure liners and covers.
Many European Union agencies, as well as governmental and non-governmental agencies in other parts of the world, such as in the United States and Japan, are engaged in studies on how to reduce contamination and how to dispose of that which exists at present.

Other research subjects

Other suggested research subjects are:
  • Standard specifications for sampling and methods of testing for contaminants vary greatly and analytical methods need to be standardised.
  • Placement of capping material on weak sub-aqueous sites needs to be researched and publicised. Some designs have been proposed but they need further investigation and should be appropriate and at reasonable cost. There is a need for more data from existing sites where capping has been carried out.
  • The development of inexpensive contaminant screening tools would improve the client’s ability to assess the need for remediation projects and improve the dredging industry’s ability to alleviate contaminants.

Other areas of research

The threat of extreme events

Dredging operations and the effects of extreme events such as tsunamis and earthquakes should be analysed and compared. Often the environmental impact from a dredging operation is less than that of an extreme natural event, but these extreme events are poorly recorded and analysed.

Impact of physical changes to specific ecosystems

In-depth research to assess the real impact of physical changes to the environment from dredging operations could help the industry and its clients. There are considerable differences in the biodiversity and sensitivity of ecological systems in differing latitudes and types of climate. Such an investigation could help ensure that the appropriate regulations are developed and once in place that they are appropriately applied to a specific situation, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.