Large-scale demonstrators on nature-based solutions for hydro-meteorological risk reduction (Phusicos)

Funding Agency: EU Commission Horizon 2020 (2018-2022)

Principle Investigators: Dr. Jan-Christoph Otto (Uni Salzburg), Dr. Robert Junker (Uni Salzburg), Dr. Sabine Kraushaar (Uni Wien)

Institutions: Uni Salzburg (Salzburg), Uni Wien (Vienna), ENGAGE - Geomorphological Systems & Risk Research (Vienna)


Economic damage costs from extreme hydro-meteorological events (such as floods, droughts, storm surges, landslides) are increasing throughout Europe. Further investment in traditional, engineering solutions for risk prevention is no longer possible in several cases, due to the very high costs, and to the limited flexibility offered by such solutions to cope with extreme events for which changes in frequency, intensity and distribution may be expected due to climate change. Nature-based solutions can be flexible, multi-beneficial alternatives to traditional engineering, but adequate proof-of-concept for their upscaling and replication is lacking.
PHUSICOS will engage a diverse range of stakeholders through a Living Labs approach with service innovation at the case study sites (e.g. Kaunertal, Austria) focusing on co-designing sustainable management services in the face of natural hazards. The Living Labs methodology provides the foundation for stakeholder involvement in several PHUSICOS work packages to ensure a user-contribution innovation methodology.

Natural hazard challenge and needs unmet

Since the end of the Little Ice Age (LIA) around 1850 global warming results in a still ongoing retreat of glaciers in the Alps. The Gepatschferner glacier in the Upper Kaunertal valley is one of the fastest melting glaciers in the Eastern European Alps. The glacier released more than 6 km² of terrain since its maximum ice extent at the mid of the 19th century. With a current retreat rate of around 110 m a-1 unconsolidated sediments of steep lateral moraines are exposed to erosion. In the Alpine environment the sediments mobilised during extreme percipitation and flooding events or by constant fluvial discharge can have negative effects on important infrastructure such as roads, settlements and water reservoirs, which are abundant in the region for energy generation, such as the Gepatsch reservoir in the Kaunertal Valley.
Only in recent years it has been acknowledged that vegetation cover may play an important role in the sediment connectivity of land units. The Kaunertal valley offers different vegetational succession phases from the glacier forefield to the reservoir together with a highly dynamic erosional environment. These circumstances provide optimal conditions to research the effects of vegetation on sediment erosion.

NBS development to fill knowledge gaps
Slope protection in pristine Alpine regions should be based on naturally ocurring plant species in order to avoid changes in local plant communities and biological invasions. Plant growth-promoting bacteria favour plant health and stress tolerance by supplying nutrients, stimulating the plants’ metabolism, and by enhancing root and vegetative development. Below- and above-ground plant traits are tighly associated to the plants’ potential to increase slope stability. Consequently, bacterial strains can be brought into action to boost the slope protective features of natural vegetation. However, the exploitation of benefitial plant-bacteria interactions has so far been restricted to crop plant species, thus its implementation as NBS in Alpine regions is pending and its acceptance by stakeholders needs to be assessed.