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Predicting an answer to the threat of flooding

The latest advances in computer flood modelling and animation that could help to improve the way we protect the UK’s towns and cities from flooding will be highlighted at this year’s BA Festival of Science in Norwich.

By improving the prediction and visualisation of the speed, direction and extent of water flow during potential flooding events, this research will help inform investment in flood defence and drainage infrastructure, where new developments should be sited and, where necessary, evacuation planning.

Developed by the multidisciplinary Flood Risk Management Research Consortium (FRMRC), these animations are based not only on state-of-the-art computer modelling tools identified and adapted by consortium researchers, but also on data pinpointing how land in and around UK towns and cities is used, such as for agricultural, industrial or residential purposes. Land-use can have a crucial impact on the severity of flooding events because agricultural practices, such as choice of crop and livestock density, can influence how much water runs off the land.

“Because the animations we are developing take into account not just the shape and contours of the land but also the way it is actually used, they provide additional information that can be used to assess the risk of flooding to people and property,” says Garry Pender, Professor of Environmental Engineering at Heriot-Watt University, who is leading the research.

The Flood Risk Management Research Consortium is a collaborative initiative supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Environment Agency, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Scottish Executive, UK Water Industry Research (UKWIR), and the Rivers Agency (Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Northern Ireland).

Professor Pender’s team is placing particular emphasis on acquiring reliable, up-to-date digital information describing rivers’ catchments as well as their shapes. Recent developments in data collection using airborne mapping systems, such as LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), have significantly reduced the cost of collecting information of this kind.

This unprecedented combination of cutting-edge computer modelling capability and up-to-date information on land use offers the prospect of a major leap forward in flood management. During his presentation at the BA Festival, Professor Pender will demonstrate some of the computer animations that his team has already developed, which show test applications of the systems to hypothetical flood scenarios in Glasgow and London.

Professor Pender will also summarise the consortium’s progress in other areas and emphasise the multidisciplinary character of its work. The consortium is integrating, for the first time, engineering, land-use management, social sciences, decision support, and the provision of information to inform government policy to effectively target all the key aspects of flood-risk management, from flood forecasting to the environmental impact of flooding events.

“The overall aim of the consortium is to ensure that the UK is better equipped than ever before to manage the effects of flooding,” says Professor Pender.

Natasha Richardson | alfa
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