Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Predicting the Extent of Flash Flooding


Devastating flooding, such as Iowa's Flood of 2008, motivated a team of researchers from the University of Iowa and Iowa Flood Center to analyze a hydrologic model with the potential to predict the extent of flooding based on predicted rain patterns

Devastating floodwaters such as those experienced during Iowa's Flood of 2008 -- which swamped many Iowa communities, along with ten square miles of Cedar Rapids -- are notoriously difficult to predict.

Aneta Goska/Iowa Flood Center

June 2013 Flooding of the Iowa River in Iowa City, Iowa.

So a team of University of Iowa mathematicians and hydrologists collaborating with the Iowa Flood Center set out to gain a better understanding of flood genesis and the factors impacting it. They were able to do this by zeroing in on the impacts of certain rainfall patterns at the smallest unit of a river basin: the hillslope scale.

This week in the journal Chaos, from AIP Publishing, the team describes how they analyzed the nonlinear dynamics of a recently proposed hydrological model at the hillslope-scale under fluctuating precipitation. The study appears as one of a special collection of related articles in the March issue of the journal, which is focused on "Nonlinear Dynamics for Planet Earth." See

The proposed hydrological model that is the subject of the new study "describes a mass balance among volumes of water at the hillslope scale," said Rodica Curtu, an associate professor in the Department of Mathematics at the University of Iowa, working on the project with Morgan Fonley, a graduate student. "Some of these volumes are easily observed, such as ponded water and streamflow, while others such as water in unsaturated areas and saturated zones of soil are more difficult to observe."

When this model is brought to equilibrium, it exhibits a natural tendency to amplify some oscillations but dampen others. "The deciding factor about this behavior is the frequency at which the oscillations are applied to the model via precipitation patterns," she pointed out.

If the hillslope system "experiences a certain frequency of rainfall, the soil becomes the least likely to take in water -- and instead puts it all in the nearest river so the streamflow exhibits large spikes of water," Curtu said. The mathematics involved tap into methods from the theory of nonlinear dynamical systems.

The key significance of this work? Mechanistic description and mathematical investigation of physical processes "can be more enlightening than model calibration, when studying nonlinear phenomena," Curtu said. This is because, she explained, mechanistic, physics-based equations “may not only simulate processes under investigation, but also uncover some of their underlying properties."

"In this case, by using physical parameters to describe a realistic hillslope, we found a pattern of precipitation that yields the greatest -- most amplified -- runoff coefficient, which determines the manner and how fast water will reach the river link."

The team's research sets up a framework by which future hillslope-soil models can be analyzed to predict the worst possible rain pattern that could lead the hillslope to flood, Curtu noted. This can be used to predict the extent of flooding possibilities based on predicted rain patterns.

Next up, the researchers will consider the effects of these streamflow oscillations once they reach the river network. Because the oscillations are occurring separately at each river link, "streamflows interact in ways that can amplify or destroy the oscillations as they combine in the river network," said Curtu.

Since this is a framework for soil models, Curtu and colleagues offer further improvements to the soil model to create a more accurate representation of water in the soil. "Using this framework, we can potentially find other factors that impact the extent of flooding both at the small hillslope scale and at the larger river catchment scale," she added. "Our work will continue in this direction with our Iowa Flood Center collaborators -- Witold Krajewski, Ricardo Mantilla and Scott Small."

The article, "Nonlinear response in runoff magnitude to fluctuating rain patterns," by Rodica Curtu and Morgan Fonley will be published in the journal CHAOS on March 10, 2015 (DOI: 10.1063/1.4913758). After that date it can be accessed at:

This work received funding from the National Science Foundation (Award Number DMS-1025483).


Chaos: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Nonlinear Science is devoted to increasing the understanding of nonlinear phenomena and describing the manifestations in a manner comprehensible to researchers from a broad spectrum of disciplines. See:

Contact Information
Jason Socrates Bardi, AIP
+1 240-535-4954

Jason Socrates Bardi, AIP | newswise

Further reports about: AIP Flash Flooding flood oscillations physics precipitation rainfall

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Receding glaciers in Bolivia leave communities at risk
20.10.2016 | European Geosciences Union

nachricht UM researchers study vast carbon residue of ocean life
19.10.2016 | University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>