Early Career Spotlight

Anne Baar

Tell us about yourself:

I’m Anne, a postdoctoral research associate at the Energy and Environment Institute at the University of Hull, working with Dan Parsons. I’m originally from the Netherlands and I finished my PhD at Utrecht University in the group of Maarten Kleinhans at the beginning of the year. I study sediment transport processes and its effect on river and estuary morphology in both experiments and numerical models. According to my colleagues I am always cheerful and have too much energy, probably because I drink a lot of coffee!

What is your research about?

My research focuses on sediment transport processes and their influence on large scale morphology. During my PhD, I studied sediment transport on transverse bed slopes. Many morphodynamic models predict unrealistically high channel erosion, which is often masked by increasing downslope sediment transport on the side-slopes of the channels up to two orders of magnitude too high. This is because the underlying process of sediment transport on transverse slopes is overly simplified in these morphodynamic models. I conducted over 300 experiments in a rotating annular flume to find a new relation between downslope sediment transport and bend flow, looking at the effect of grain size, sediment sorting and bedforms. Then, I focused on identifying the cause of unrealistic channel erosion in morphodynamic models and the effect of artificially increasing downslope sediment transport to get realistic morphology. At the moment, I’m using this knowledge to model the influence of fluvial sediment input and discharge variations on large-scale estuary morphodynamics.

What excites you about your research?

I love the combination between experiments and morphodynamic models. In experiments you see sediment transport phenomena happening, and I love to think about the importance of these processes on a larger scale. This also helps me to understand if what I observe in the morphodynamic models is realistic. The part I enjoy the most is finding empirical relations in experiments or model results.

What broader importance does your research have for society?

Morphodynamic models are essential tools to predict the development of fluvial and tidal systems in scientific and engineering studies. These models are increasingly used to optimize e.g. engineering interventions, flood protection, and shipping fairway maintenance, and to predict the system evolution under the influence of pressures such as sea level rise and human interference. My research showed that arbitrary bed slope calibration may cause an order of magnitude error in local sediment dynamics, bar and channel patterns, and rate of morphological change, and showed how model design can be improved for different research objectives. This is therefore of relevance to both idealized long-term modelling as calibrated models used for decision making.

What inspired you to pursue a career in Earth science?

I wanted to study at a university since I was a kid because I really liked going to museums with my dad and I was always interested in science. I loved geography and physics at high school and I was looking for a way to combine both subjects. When I went to open days at the university it was immediately clear that the Earth Sciences bachelor was exactly what I was looking for. I didn’t know that I really wanted to pursue a career in science until I was working as a PhD student. I learned that being a scientist does not mean that you are studying one fundamental problem for years, but instead means that you can follow your own research interests, work with other people, teach, go to conferences etc.

What are you looking to do after you complete your PhD?

I would love to keep working at a university. Ideally I would stay at the University of Hull a bit longer and eventually find a position where I can combine research and teaching. But if that doesn’t work out, I will probably move back to the Netherlands and find any job that suits my interests and allows me to keep challenging myself.

Given unlimited funding and access to resources, what is your dream project that you would pursue?

My dream project at the moment would be to study the processes that I observed in the lab in undisturbed meandering rivers in the field. So do detailed measurements of flow, sediment transport and sediment sorting along many bends, and look how they develop over time. Other than that, I would like to do more experiments in the lab to try to get a better understanding of sediment processes on slopes, e.g. look at the role of suspended sediment, do more tests on the effect of waves, track individual particles and link this to detailed flow measurements….

What else do you do?  Any hobbies or interests outside of work?

Next to doing research, I enjoy teaching, especially on outreach projects at elementary schools. I developed a method to teach river experiments in primary schools, and helped write a book for elementary school teachers.

Outside work I enjoy drinking coffee or have dinner with friends. And I love cycling! In the Netherlands I would go out for a ride every Sunday with my dad. Now that I live in the UK I miss that, but I convinced my new colleagues to buy a bike and we started a new cycling group. If I’m not cycling, I like to go on hikes and explore the UK. What I probably enjoy just as much is to watch any kind of sports, watch cycling competitions on location, read about cycling, or talk about cycling over coffee! My twin sister jokes that I have too many hobbies, and I take them all too seriously...

If you know of an early career EPSP researcher (PhD student or Postdoc) who deserves to have a spotlight on them, you can nominate them here.

This is me running as many models as possible on the supercomputer of the University of Hull!