Skip to main content

Johanna Sörensen - December 2023


Can you tell me a bit about yourself, where you are from and what has been your path to get you to where you are now in your profession?

I'm an environmental engineer from Lund University. I worked as a consultant for some years, designing pipe systems, and modelling flood risk caused by intense rainfall. The company was quite focused on concrete pipes and high-tech pipe system solutions. In my current position, I have instead looked into how we can mimic nature to deal with stormwater, slowing down the flows to reduce the risk of flooding. This is something we call blue-green infrastructure and by applying it we can deal with both pollutant load and flood risk reduction, as well as increasing urban green spaces. There is much potential in this approach, as vegetation and water together are very important for cities.

You are now a senior researcher at the Division of Water Resource Engineering, can you tell me a bit about how this department is interested in the urban realm?

We work with water in general. The department is called Water Resource Engineering, but actually, we work even broader, covering most aspects of water. We have people like me, who work with urban hydrology, others who work with flows in the natural environment – rivers, coastal problems like adaptation to rising sea levels and so on – and some researchers who work with drinking water. We are quite an international department which is both developing and fun, it is a great opportunity to expand one’s realm of ideas. Often in Sweden, we seem to have the perception that how we deal with things here is the only right way. Working in such an international context broadens the ideas you encounter. You see other technical, social, and organizational solutions which are very useful.

Thank you for those interesting reflections, can you tell me more about your current research?

I have two main interests in research, one is more engineering and trying to find the right solution for hydrology issues; How efficient are the solutions? To what extent can they deal with different problems? Here I use a typical engineering approach, studying a problem and trying to solve it. Blue-green infrastructures can consist of various structures like stormwater ponds, rain gardens, swales, green roofs, permeable paving and many more. I try to understand how effective these are in dealing with infiltration, detention of flow, etc. I work a lot with modelling and build models based on monitored data to understand the physical processes of water movement in a context, and to test different scenarios. For instance, extreme weather events are rarely measured in the original data.

The other part of my research focuses on sociotechnical transitions, which for me means dealing with how we can make cities more sustainable, focusing on climate adaptation, stormwater management and flood risk management. With the current legislation and organization, it is hard to transition into more efficient ways of implementing blue-green infrastructure as they not only deal with stormwater issues but also enrich the city in other ways. Generally, municipal professionals are very positive towards this way of dealing with stormwater, but since the current regulations are made for a conventional system with underground pipe systems, it is very hard to implement blue-green infrastructure on a large scale. We have one project together with the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency and the Swedish Agency forMarine and Water Management where we try to find good examples of blue-green infrastructure implementation from abroad, where they have, in different ways- through policies, organisational methods and other types of initiatives have managed to increase the speed of implementation of blue-green solutions. We will try to make good suggestions on what could be useful in Sweden to bridge the barriers of this technical transition.

Do you have any emerging topics of research that you want to explore in the future?

I think that both urban hydrology and sociotechnical transitions have many interesting emerging topics within them, and I am interested in following this for both areas. Finding good examples of countries where they are more successful in these implementations is very important, but it is also challenging since the struggles are quite like ours in many countries. How to become more sustainable in how we deal with stormwater is a tricky question and research can only take us so far. We will have to test not only new technologies but also new policies and other ways of coping with these problems- to be a bit daring on all levels: national, regional and local authorities, as well as in the private sector. Since a few years back, the interest in climate change adaptation has been rising and there is more interest among for example politicians to not only focus on lowering the emissions but also looking into how we can deal with the effects of global warming in a sustainable way. It is hard to say since I am biased in these issues, but I feel a change in the interest in blue-green solutions, there seems to be more focus on this in the general debate.

When it comes to the urban, can you explain a bit more how your area of research relates to the city?

I am interested in urban environments because that is where most people live. When it comes to stormwater, a bigger city generally equals more complex issues with stormwater and drinking water. In smaller urban areas it is often possible to discharge nearby and there are more permeable surfaces and vegetation. In dense urban areas, the high amount of hard surfaces leads to high runoff and evaporation is not as effective because there are fewer trees and vegetation. When it comes to blue-green solutions it is interesting to deal with urbanity on whatever scale, since its structures have such a big impact on the everyday environments of all the people who live there.

That is very interesting, do you have a favourite city or urban context?

I lived in Copenhagen for many years which is a great city, especially since I love to bike. When it comes to their methods of dealing with urban hydrological processes I am a bit torn, they are very good at promoting what they do in terms of stormwater management but if you look a bit closer at the actual financing and compare how much money is begin invested in blue-green solutions compared to traditional infrastructure with big sewage tunnels, it is still a lot more money that goes towards the latter. This creates a quite skewed perception of the level of the city’s progressiveness in these issues and can be a bit misleading. However, it is indeed great that they are developing blue-green solutions and that they spread information on how to make attractive solutions that can inspire others, but they have not undergone that fundamental change that sometimes might be what you perceive. It is difficult to make big changes in urban areas, the urban environment is already built, and it is not easy to adapt it. To reach full effect, great changes need to happen and be made possible in the existing environment- beyond planting new trees.

When it comes to Urban Arena, are there any special or unique opportunities that you are especially happy to be a part of?

The way of dealing with urban hydrological processes that I study and promote influences the urban environment a lot, which is partly why I was interested in Urban Arena. I like to meet people with overlapping interests. There have been many good events in various formats, for example, workshops with researchers and practitioners. Our way of co-organizing events is also very good, when someone is organizing something, we can help each other by putting another name on the event and spreading it to a bigger community, to make more people feel invited from different disciplines. We could probably develop this even further and partner with other, neighbouring universities like Malmö University, The Swedish University of Agricultural Science (SLU) and the World Maritime University as well as practitioners. Through Urban Arena I get a lot of information about what is going on, which helps me widen the scope of my research and interact with disciplines I would not have done otherwise.


Page Manager: | 2023-12-15