Prof. Dr. Lars Ribbe

  • Prof. Dr. Lars Ribbe © Axel Schulten
    © Axel Schulten

Prof. Dr. Lars Ribbe, Managing Director of the Institute for Technology and Resources Management in the Tropics and Subtropics (ITT) at TH Köln, explains why studying at the Institute can influence the water management around the world. He also reveals his favourite waterside spot in Cologne.

CCB: Cologne’s Academic Year 2017 focuses on “Water: the Artery of Life”. You’re the scientific mentor. What’s it all about?

Prof. Dr. Ribbe: Water is the basis for all life on earth. For that reason, we need to explore it scientifically – looking at issues such as how much water does a region contain, the quality of this water, and how much of it is available for agriculture, industry, the domestic water supply and for nature. This year, we’re presenting various Cologne initiatives in the form of lectures and exhibitions. In addition, we’re inviting the people of Cologne to come and visit us so they can gain an insight into the research we’re doing. At the ITT, we also organise a conference entitled “Water Security and Climate Change” that involves scientists from all over the world.

You are the director of ITT. What do you do exactly?

ITT conducts research into natural resources that provide the basis for the development of society and the economy. Our goal is to provide political and economic decision-makers with the information, knowledge and tools necessary to deal with resources sustainably. In Vietnam, for example, we are investigating the salinization of rivers. The heavy use of water resources leads to reduced water flow. At the same time, the sea level is rising and causing salt water to enter the rivers. This process is leading to major problems, in agriculture for example. This is not just happening in Vietnam, but also in many other areas of the world. We have researched into how to prevent salt-water intrusion through technical intervention and through improved water resource management.

So, studying in Cologne improves our approach to water around the world?

Yes, at the ITT, the knowledge we convey through our three master study programmes is applied in various regions throughout the world. Two-thirds of our students come from abroad. Intercultural exchange offers a considerable advantage because it brings everyday experiences from numerous different regions of the world to Cologne. In turn, our German students have the opportunity to go to at least one of our international partner universities and obtain a master thesis there.

Cologne-based universities and independent research institutes work together through the Cologne Science Forum. The interdisciplinary approach seems to be important for your research. Why?

Resource management represents a complex issue. In order to find solutions to existing problems, we need to understand natural and social systems. In doing this, natural, engineering and social sciences are equally relevant. No single institution can provide the knowledge necessary to adequately address these challenges. That is why we work together with lots of other institutions in Cologne, Germany, as well as internationally. At the same time, we need local partners who understand the problems and are capable of implementing solutions on the ground. We get them on board from day one and work with them until the research is completed.

You have been investigating water management for more than 15 years. Could you tell us what your favourite water-side location is in Cologne?

My favourite spot is on the river Rhine across from the Cathedral. As well as being able to enjoy a beautiful view of our city, you see how the built-up and the natural environments intertwine – something that is not always without its problems. But the Freitreppe (stepped embankment) is a fine example of how water and a city can compliment one another.

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