Use earth sciences to contribute to a sustainable use of energy and earth resources and reduce the impact of natural hazards on society


Combine earth science knowledge with spatial modelling and advanced earth observation analysis, to improve our understanding of the impact of climate and population change on the scarceness of resources and energy, changing natural hazards and increased vulnerability and risk of our society.

Research framework and objectives

4D-EARTH consists of two main research themes: Geothermal Energy and Earth Resources (chair van der Meer), and Natural Hazards and Disaster Risk Management (chair Jetten). The research programme was formed in 2011 out of the two chairs and is on its way to integrate these themes in three ways: i) climate research: the impact of the rapidly growing world population manifests itself in an increasing demand for scarce earth resources and energy, leading to climate change and an increase in the frequency and impact of natural disasters, ii) "geodynamics": research of the earth's crust and mantle provides insight n the geothermal pathways on the one hand, and in the dynamics of earthquakes and related damages on the other, and iii) the use of hyperspectral information to better characterize soil chemical, physical and geotechnical properties, providing valuable information for spatial modelling of land degradation.

In the past years, we have reached a high level of expertise in understanding geothermal systems and related alteration geochemistry and in combining spatial predictive modelling of hydro-meteorological hazards and the variability of societal vulnerability in space and time. At the heart of this research are earth observation methods, from object-oriented (OOA) to multi- and hyperspectral analysis, in order to understand better the spatial and temporal links and dynamics between driving forces and their impacts. In line with the mission of the ITC we specifically aim to make our research useful for society: 4D-EARTH has a strong track record in research and capacity development projects in Europe, East Africa, and Central and South East Asia, working with research institutes, industry and institutes that deal with disaster risk reduction.

Research themE

Research group leaders

Geothermal Energy and Earth Resources (GEER)
Prof. dr. Freek van der Meer

Natural Hazards and Disaster Risk Management research theme (NHDRM)
Prof. dr. Victor Jetten


Georesources, Geo-energy, Geodynamics, Geo-engineering, Natural Hazards, Rural & Urban risk, Damage assessment, Applied hydrology, Geomorphology, Spectral image analysis, Contextual image analysis, Spatial statistics, Geophysics, Spatial Process Modelling

Group membership

The Department of Earth Systems Analysis (ESA) is a member of the Twente Graduate School (TGS). Both prof. Van der Meer and prof. Jetten are members of the research school SENSE.

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The research environment within the 4D-EARTH group is characterized by its multi-disciplinary nature. We contain a combination of different focus areas, each with its own national and international context. We use the tenure track system to create a stimulating research environment and career opportunities. The integration of tools and techniques from both groups creates added value for our MSc students and PhD researchers. We work closely together with other research programs within ITC (in projects and common PhDs): with WCC for climate research, with PLUS for vulnerability and risk governance in Urban areas, with FORAGES on environmental issues and with ACQUAL on 3D point clouds (building damage assessment) and web GIS. This gives our researchers the possibility to involve expertise from other required disciplines in a natural manner.

The ITC has a well-equipped laboratory, which is strongly supported by the ESA department. It has a number of state-of-the-art field and airborne spectroscopy instruments for rock and soil physical and chemical identification, and with Short Wave and Thermal Infrared spectrometers comparable only to those at USGS, NASA JPL, CSIRO, King College London, and John Hopkins University. The acquisition of a UAV by ITC has triggered new research in post-disaster rapid damage assessment of buildings. Within the UT cooperation we are part of the Twente Water Centre and cooperate with Civil Engineering (Faculty CTW) on water issues and geo-engineering issues, and our geothermal energy focus adds another dimension to the Green Energy Initiative of UT.

Scientific highlights are related to the individual focus areas of the 4D-EARTH research:

  • Spatial models based on SWIR and TIR spectroscopy were successfully used to map metamorphic grade and surface geochemistry that gave unprecedented insights into hydrothermal fluid pathways and gateways to mineral deposits.
  • Satellite gravity (GOCE, GRACE) is used in combination with geophysical and seismological data results in in refined 3D models of the crust and mantle structure, heat flow and density distribution.
  • Our understanding of hydrothermal systems on earth formed the basis for studying similar systems on Mars. Here we address the key question whether Martian sulphate and phyllosilicate deposits originate from weathering or hydrothermal processes.
  • Understanding and modelling "cascading" multi-hazard events: e.g. earthquakes, leading to landslides and debris flows, leading to landslide dams of rivers, leading to flash floods (Wenchuan earthquake research).
  • Our landslide hazard and risk research is world class ranging from earthquake induced landslide triggers, to meteorologically driven run-out modelling.
  • Integrated flood risk analysis and spatial urban growth simulations (PLUS research theme), leading to advanced planning and risk mitigation scenarios for different scenarios of population growth.
  • Characterizing soil properties for land degradation by combining remote sensing with field/lab spectral measurements.
  • Advances in Object Oriented Analysis of high resolution images are used for rapid damage assessment. This is based on comparative analysis of UAV-based building images before and after the event (with the ACQUAL research theme at ITC and international cooperation).

ESA Staff and expertise

Our staff has academic background in process geomorphology, hydrology and meteorology, as well as geo-engineering, geology, geophysics or geochemistry. This is combined with expertise in earth observation relevant to our line of research (SWIR, TIR, hyperspectral, OOA and change detection) and spatial process modelling. Two senior researchers (UHD) are in tenure track positions on the themes of "Geodynamics of the earth's crust" and "Remote sensing for disaster risk management". Furthermore, two researchers (UD) are in the tenure track from 2014 onward to strengthen strategic fields of climate extremes and geothermal systems.

We have in currently 18 staff (16 tenured and 2 non-tenured) of which 5 have a lecturer position. Because we succeed in closely integrating our research activities with our MSc education and capacity development work, the group functions as a unit, where also the lecturing staff participates in scientific conferences and capacity development projects, and supports software development.

The 4D EARTH theme has matured in recent years as is illustrated by the graduation of an increasing number of PhDs and an increase in high impact publications with the number of publications steadily increasing. In 2012 the first 4D EARTH PhD (Hecker) received the PhD com laude (top 5% of the university Twente). We have a regular influx of PhD researchers, both from research projects (EU, NWO, Flood Control 2015) and regularly attract PhD's with personal grants from for instance Erasmus Mundus or through strategic partnerships in India, China and Indonesia, and even privately funded. Currently (2014) we have 28 PhD researchers on a variety of themes.

Capacity Development and societal relevance

4D-EARTH strives to apply its research in close relation to the mission of the ITC, capacity development in lesser developed countries and emerging economies. This takes the form of constructing training material and handbooks, WEB-based analysis tools, open source software, and dissemination of scientific results directly to stakeholders. We recognize that our direct counterparts are often research institutes, or local and national government institutions, which gives our capacity development a "train the trainer" aspect. In the coming years we will further develop our web-based risk analysis and hazard modelling tools in a risk management platform, but always from a tailor-made user perspective. Since 2007 we have managed to get:

  • 15 research grants from the EU (FP6, FP7 incl. Marie Curie): 2.5 million Euro
  • 26 capacity development projects: 3.56 million Euro, based on contract work for World Bank, Asian Development Bank, Dutch government, Nordic Development Fund, UNESCO, UN-HABITAT and direct government funds from Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, China
  • Industrial links in mineral resources and geothermal energy: Transmark Renewables, IF Technology, WEP.


Developing spatial models of hydrothermal systems with hyperspectral remote sensing and fieldwork

Developing spatial models of hydrothermal systems with hyperspectral remote sensing and fieldwork.

Earthquake damage assessment with UAV and 3D point cloud analysis

Earthquake damage assessment with UAV and 3D point cloud analysis.


Open source software for Hazard and Risk modelling (

Open source software for Hazard and Risk modelling (