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Multidisciplinary solutions for sustainable water management

Tenure track professor for arctic research Hannu Marttila is keen on fishing and multidisciplinary research and wants to advance sustainable water management via science. He is the leader of Northern Hydrology research group at Water, Energy and Environmental engineering research unit. 

Assistant professor Hannu Marttila has always felt at home by the water. He spent his childhood summers at his family’s cottage located on an island in Lake Saimaa. Trips to Lapland inspired young Marttila to get into fishing. When he was 10 years old he tried flyfishing and has been hooked ever since. “Flyfishing connects my hobby and work nicely, since one needs to understand the hydraulics of stream waters, the behaviour of fish and stream ecology,” Marttila says. 

Marttila has since been able to get closely acquainted with water cycle for he has graduated as Master of Technology in Water and Environmental engineering from University of Oulu. His role in Water, Energy and Environmental engineering research unit has grown during the years from doctoral student to post-doctoral researcher to Assistant professor and group leader. Now he can spend his time at lakes, sea and rivers both as a hobby and as a job. 

At the same time he has the change to travel to interesting places. Doing doctoral thesis took him to Canada for half a year which expanded his understanding of Northern regions. Later a few months in New Zealand with his whole family helped to see the importance of water related issues globally. Both places also provided gorgeous fishing waters. Indeed, Marttila combines fishing to his travels whenever possible. He is also familiar with fishing waters of Nordic countries and Scotland and has caught salmon in Kola Peninsula in Russia. 

At the end of last year Marttila was chosen in a tenure track professor post for ecohydrology. The post is a part of a profile area for Arctic research in University of Oulu, Arctic Interactions and Global Change. “This theme fits me naturally and it’s a great step for me in my career as a scientist”, Marttila explains his reasons for applying.

It is rewarding to Hannu Marttila to notice that one’s own results are put into good use. “I think it’s important to bring new information known to users, decisionmakers and citizens. When I see that my work has had an impact and is being used, I have done my job well”, he says. 

Driving forward multidisciplinary science

What especially fascinates Marttila in the tenure-professor post is its multidisciplinary nature. The collaboration of different fields in science comes built-in in this job and the starting of cooperation feels very easy. He enjoys expanding his understanding in water-related issues with geographers and ecologists for example. According to Marttila one science discipline can’t solve the vast challenges water systems and water management pose. 

“It’s critical to get an overview of things. The way I see it, you can’t do water research without considering the multidisciplinary side. Take a river for example. When studying that you have to take into an account the ecological effects to fish and other life forms, river flow regulation, water consumption by humans, recreational use, ecosystem services and biodiversity, Marttila lists. 

The technical side, which Marttila represents, provides process understanding, new measurement techniques and modelling tools to multidisciplinary research. With them it is possible to clarify changes in water quality caused by land-use and get a look at the future, for example. 

Water, land and air

The tenure post includes three research themes: northern ecohydrological cycle, peatland usage and method developing for new measurement techniques. The ecohydrology theme led by Marttila has the goal of getting an accurate picture of the water cycle in the Arctic and its links to biogeochemical and ecological effects.

Pallas supersite, a research station located in the Northern Finland, provides research data for this purpose. The measurements, which have been going for years, are made in cooperation with several research institutes and the university. The all-round measurements stretch from the factors of hydrology to greenhouse gases. “The unique quality of Pallas supersite is that many fields of science collaborate there. With continuous measurements we can bring the knowledge about different processes together. The extensive dataset gives us a possibility to find answers to questions that cross the boundaries of disciplines. We can get the big picture and do forecasts for hydrological changes and carbon cycle, for instance. There’s a lot of novelty also in global scale”, Marttila says. 

The newest techniques are in use at Pallas. Continuous water isotope measurements linked to modelling are done in only a few research groups globally. With water isotopes the origin of the water can be defined. The information is helpful in understanding substance drifting patterns and watershed modelling. “With isotopes and hydrological models, we can better understand and forecast the changes happening in watersheds and the links to water quality and the carbon cycle”, Marttila says. 

Ground penetrating radar measurements gives information about soil depths, layers of snow and the level of groundwater. In wintertime they are done with a snowmobile.

The water cycle in the Arctic is changing rapidly due to climate change. Rain will fall more often as water instead of snow and in some locations rainfall is increasing. “When we get a better understanding of these processes, we can improve land-use planning, water conservation and predict extreme weather conditions” Marttila explains. So far the research results have been useful to water protection methods in forestry and agriculture for instance.
The scientist with a technology background enjoys developing, testing and applying new methods and technologies. Combining different measuring techniques, like the continuous monitoring in the watershed, satellite data and hydrological models gives new information and understanding of the big picture. New perspective to research is provided by spatial drone-based methods which enable the studying of for example peatland restoration success and depth variation of snow coverage from air with high accuracy and speed. 

Putting the information to use

According to Marttila one of the best parts of being a scientist is solving problems and challenges. It is also rewarding to notice that one’s own results are put into good use. “I think it’s important to bring new information known to users, decisionmakers and citizens. When I see that my work has had an impact and is being used, I have done my job well”, says Marttila. 

The scientist is also in the frontlines in witnessing how climate change will affect the north, especially because his own unit is at the cutting edge of science in their field. “It gives you the change to take a peek into the future and have an impact on the way we are headed. It’s motivating for a scientist”, Marttila ponders. 

He hopes he can increase people’s understanding of the big picture through his research. Water doesn’t just drain through the watershed, but for example biochemical processes, greenhouse gases, plants, land-use and ecological and social effects are all related matters. All of them get tied together into a complicated entity. 

“The conditions in the north are changing rapidly. Not only because of climate change but also as the consequence of land-use and harvesting resources. All the processes are not yet understood and if they are not understood, we can’t provide solutions”, he says. “I hope I can enhance the sustainable use of water system and bring information forward. The most important thing is that you can raise awareness, train and bring new perspective to things. That way I can hopefully have an impact on people’s actions.”

A few months as a visiting researcher in New Zealand with his whole family helped Hannu Marttila to see the importance of water related issues globally. Taking groundwater samples in New Zealand. 


Text: Aino Soutsalmi

Photos: Hannu Marttila



Last updated: 30.6.2020