Will use EEA grant to research shrinking glaciers and factory systems

Two researchers from the Western Norway University of Applied Sciences (WNUAS) have received EEA grants for international collaborative research and innovation projects. Accordingly, they get access to their European partners’ vital expertise in mathematical modelling and climate research.

A factory in which the production runs smoothly, with no unwanted delays, is part of what Reza Arghandeh is working towards. His innovation project aims to develop a mathematical model that will provide automated monitoring of the entire system in a factory. The monitoring alerts when something looks as if it will go wrong in the production line, before it happens. The EU funding gives Arghandeh, professor at the Department of Computer Science, Electrical Engineering and Mathematical Sciences, the chance to try to develop the model, which could have major impact for the flow of production in many different factories.

Jacob Yde works on finding the effect melting glaciers have on the climate and environment. Using the EEA funding, he is investigating what happens to the ecosystem in fjords when glaciers shrink and no longer rest in the water when they melt. Professor Yde from the Department of Environmental Sciences is wondering whether we are losing an important mechanism for binding greenhouse gases when the glacier melts on land instead of in the fjord.

Stronger collaboration and levelling out of European countries

The objective of the EEA funding is to reduce disparities and stimulate closer collaboration between nations like Norway and selected EU countries. Generally these are countries that have a lower economic average in the EU, and that need to strengthen their participation in international education, research and innovation projects.

Portrettbilde av Terje Gravdal

– The EEA funding gives WNUAS and other Norwegian institutions the opportunity to strengthen research and innovation partnerships with institutions in recipient countries within prioritised fields. These partnerships may establish the right conditions for new projects within other programmes, like Horizon Europe, explains Terje Gravdal, a senior external funding consultant at WNUAS.

The current programme period for the EEA funding is due to last until the end of April 2024. Negotiations are underway on a new financial period for these funds. 

– In practice, Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein are donor countries and finance the EEA funding in the relevant EU countries. Part of the negotiation process is to settle on which general area each country should prioritise. They set up the programmes for those areas, and followingly they can apply for funding. For example, Lithuania has a prioritised a programme for green business development, leading to partnerships with Norwegian institutions within this area, Gravdal explains.

Professor Arghandeh’s partner in his innovation project is the Energy Advice enterprise in Lithuania. They develop a range of products within what is known as “Internet of Things” (IOT) solutions for industry companies. The EEA funding practically pays for a PhD position in the project. The PhD will work with Energy Advice on validating algorithms.

In Professor Yde’s research project, it is the Polish Academy of Sciences in Poland that leads the project. They contribute with specialist knowledge about the biochemical processes that take place in fjords – oceanography. They will supplement the knowledge of Yde and his team about what takes place in the glaciers. The EU funding pays for a postdoctoral researcher and part of a technician’s position in the project.

A good opportunity for important external funding

The EEA-funded projects do not demand equity into the projects on WNUAS’ behalf.

 Portrettbilde av Gro Anita Fonnes Flaten– That makes it a very good and interesting programme for research teams at WNUAS, and I encourage more people to apply, says Gro Anita Fonnes Flaten, Pro-Rector of Research at WNUAS.

It is a pronounced goal of the national authorities to increase the proportion of EEA funding to Norwegian partners, and this makes an excellent contribution to WNUAS’ external funding.

– The EEA funds may not be as visible as Horizon Europe in a research and innovation context. However, the EEA funds represent an opportunity in themselves, as they can finance major projects and help to create long-term international partnerships between WNUAS’ academic teams and collaborators in recipient countries, explains Fonnes Flaten.

An automated «Cyber doctor» for factories

Professor Arghandeh started his innovation project on 1 January. The aim is to try to make a large-scale model that brings together amounts of data from a range of processes and systems, such as electrical, chemical, mechanical, human processes, and so on. The idea is for the model to work almost as an automated doctor, a “cyber-doctor” that will is able to identify what is wrong with the numerous complex systems in a factory.

– For example, a doctor measures blood pressure, heart rhythm, reflexes, etc., in order to discover potential future illness in people. In a similar way, we want to create something that can warn us of potential nonconformities in the production chain of a factory, explains Arghandeh.

– If we continue with the comparison of a doctor and the human body, we could say that we want to find a model that is equivalent to the heart, the very centre of all the processes in the body, he says.

In the innovation project, Arghandeh’s research team will use a new direction in data processing, known as “causal inference”, to find cause and effect throughout a factory’s system. Using the EEA funds, their initial aim is to develop a “proof of concept”.

The project has been given the name Development of innovative complex predictive maintenance system EA-Predictive. Energy Advice is coordinating the project.

Reza Arghandeh is going to develop systems for factories by the use of EEA funds and collaboration with Polish Energy Advice. 

Climate effect of shrinking glaciers

Professor Yde’s project started at the beginning of the year. The field work in the project will take place in Svalbard. They will investigate the nutrients being released from melting glaciers, with the aim of developing some hypotheses on the future climate effect.

– When glaciers melt in a fjord, which is what has happened in Svalbard up to now, a lot of nutrients come into contact with the cold meltwater from the glacier. Followingly, algae are formed, that remove CO2 from the atmosphere. When the algae die, they sink to the bottom, with some of the CO2 they have collected, explains Yde.

– However, due to the warmer climate, the glaciers are now shrinking, and the front of the glaciers get pulled up on land, thus changing the environment of the fjords, Yde continues.

What are the consequences on the ecosystem and, for example, the uptake of greenhouse gases by the algae? This is among the questions that Yde and his colleagues seek to answer.

– We want to study both the glaciers that are still located in the fjords in Svalbard, and the glaciers that have pulled up on to the land. We will look at what happens to the ecosystem in the fjord when the nutrients from the glacier meltwater are omitted, which help to absorb CO2. We are going to sail around the fjords in Svalbard, collecting water and sediment samples, he explains.

In contrast to another major research project Yde is running on the Jostedal Glacier, where they are investigating changes in the glacier, they are focusing on what effect the glaciers have on the fjords. And this is where the Polish Academy of Science comes in.

– They are oceanographers with more knowledge of fjords. We have been wanting to understand the interaction between glaciers and fjords for many years, so that we can evaluate the whole system. That is why this project is so exciting, says Yde.

The project is called RAW – Retreat and Wither – What is the influence of glaciers’ recession from tidewater to land-based on the marine biological production and biogeochemistry in the Arctic. The Polish Academy of Science is coordinator.

Jacob Yde will sail around the fjords of Svalbard to investigate melting glaciers.