The Power of Size

How crossdisciplinary scaling transforms assessment and management of environmental risks
1 September 2024 until 31 August 2029
Project type

The PowerOfSize project looks at chemical pollution, one of the fastest growing environmental problems in the world. Over the last decades, anthropogenic pressures on the environment have dramatically intensified and diversified. Nowadays, we have to deal with 100,000+ pollutants, species and sites. To set the right priorities among these environmental problems and to select the best alternatives among sustainable solutions, proper assessment tools are urgently needed.

While several models are available, application to thousands of cases is severely limited by data gaps due to financial, ethical, disciplinary and other constraints. Previous research has shown that the values of parameters in those models can depend on the size of molecules, regions and organisms. However, that relationship is often not directly proportional: if a city, lake or animal is twice as large, it does not necessarily have twice as much energy, water or material flowing in or out.

As an alternative, missing information can be obtained by linking parameters to size (e.g., catchment area, organism weight). While scaling has been proven valuable for a few parameters, relationships have largely been derived in a mono-disciplinary context only.

This project therefore derives relationships for parameters that determine the emission, fate, accumulation and effects of substances. General principles can then be developed that are valid in different fields, for example for emission and excretion of substances by engines and animals, flow rates in rivers and in blood vessels, and concentrations of natural and synthetic particles. By nature, the research is thus both fundamental and applied: the "Power of Size" contributes to a better understanding of the role played by size in the functioning of systems as well as to a better assessment of risks of substances.


Following the urgent scientific and societal needs, the overall aim of PowerOfSize is to obtain a cross-disciplinary suite of mechanistic and statistical relationships for environmentally relevant parameters (quantities) in assessment models as a function of size and other descriptors, underpinned by overarching scaling principles. Based on research gaps and policy priorities, we focus on pollutants, covering emission and fate in catchments and cities, accumulation in organisms and effects on communities.


Based on information from reviews, databases and articles, we will derive empirical and theoretical relationships for rate, time, density and other quantities Y (parameters) as a function of city, catchment, organism and community size X, covering, e.g., water in catchments, materials in cities, blood in organisms and biomass in communities as well as the pollutants they generate, carry and degrade. Identifying overarching principles based on shared system characteristics (e.g., dimension), the integrated suite obtained 1) profoundly advances our understanding and 2) crucially reduces data-hungriness of assessment tools.


EU Horizon Europe: ERC Advanced Grant

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