Smart forecasting: joined-up flood forecasting (FF) infrastructure with uncertainties

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Civil and Structural Engineering


Reliable and comprehensive flood forecasting is crucial to ensure resilient cities and sustainable socio-economic development in a future faced with an unprecedented increase in atmospheric temperature and intensified precipitation. Floodwaters from the areas surrounding a city can heavily affect flood cycle behaviour across urban areas, introducing uncertainties into the forecast that are often non-negligible. However, currently the extent to which we can predict flood hazards is limited, and existing methods cannot for example deal with inter-regional dependencies (e.g. as was seen when floods affected nine different countries across Central and Eastern Europe). Presently in the UK approx. 25% of yearly flood insurance claims are from areas outside the zones forecast to be at flood risk, and annual flood damage costs are already high (approx. £1.5 billion). Also more than 20,000 houses per year continue to be built on floodplains.

The need to transform flood forecasting for a range of applications and scales has already been recognised by various parties. The UK Climate Change Risk Assessment 2017 Evidence Report prioritises flooding as the greatest direct climate change related threat for UK cities now and in the future, and urges urgent action to be taken, including the development of new solutions over the next 5 years. The hydraulic software industry and consultancy firms have expressed a desire for more reliable and sophisticated flood forecasting approaches, which can also reduce the manual labour required. In addition, mathematics and engineering research communities are still searching for forecasting models that are joined-up, reliable and efficient, as well as versatile and adaptable.

To address this need, 'Multi-Wavelets' technology will be employed in this fellowship with a view to transforming flood forecasting routines from a disparate set of activities into a unified automatic framework. The applicant's vision is to exploit the innate capabilityof Multi-Wavelets technology to reformulate flood forecasting methods by providing a smart modelling foundation for the delivery of timely and accurate flood maps, alongside statistically quantified uncertainties. This research presents a unique opportunity for the applicant, UK academia and UK industry, to establish a world leading capability in a nascent field while addressing Living With Environmental Change (LWEC) priorities for improved forecasting of environmental change.

The fellowship research will stimulate the creation of new software infrastructure capable of significantly improving our flood forecasting ability across length scales and under multiple uncertainties, helping us to better design infrastructure against flood risk and to plan for the consequences.

Planned Impact

Flooding presents a major long term threat to the economy and wellbeing of people living and working in their communities. More than 5 million properties in England are already 'at risk' of flooding, with an increase in flood risk across all UK regions predicted given the current trend of global temperature increase (CCRA Evidence Report 2017). This fellowship will support the development of new mathematical approaches designed to increase the reliability and timeliness of the provision of flood forecast information (in line with ambition R5 of the 'Resilient Nation' theme of the EPSRC Delivery Plan 2016/17-2019/20). Together with the general public, those with the responsibility of forecasting, assessing and/or managing flood risk will benefit from more comprehensive quantification of flood risk at a city-wide scale and more accurate prioritisation of the highest risk zones. These beneficiaries include the Environment Agency and those working in the water consultancy and software industries, local authorities, water companies, emergency responders and the insurance industry.

Hydraulics-based software providers and engineering consultants involved in this fellowship (BMT-WBM, CH2M, XP Solutions, Innovyze and DHI) will have immediate access to the transformative approaches developed which are designed to move flood forecasting from a disparate set of activities into a unified automatic framework. Developing and extending their products as a result of the fellowship will enable them to: (i) more effectively and efficiently handle day-to-day flood modelling activities, e.g. by a reduced reliance on user iterations to build and run a model for individual flood risk assessment projects, and (ii) to become more competitive in the global market for water modelling services.

The Environment Agency (EA) will also have immediate access to the research outputs. Their 'Flood and Coastal Risk Management Research and Development' team will monitor the fellowship's research, with a view to answering key strategic questions related to flood forecasting and risk management (Collaborative Research Priorities for the Environment Agency 2016-20). This fellowship will develop a modelling framework capable of modelling the flood flow interdependencies that exist between different regions. This can be expected to benefit the EA in mitigating against severe events such as flash floods, and policy-makers in addressing key national strategic needs, such as the need to better protect and/or restrict the development of assets located on floodplains (the UK is building faster on floodplains than anywhere else, with approx. 1500 new homes built annually in 'high risk' areas (Committee on Climate Change 2015)).

The fellowship will involve personnel co-working with mathematicians, engineers and scientists, conducting research placements, and participating in industry and public engagement activities. Hence, it will generate unique skills and capabilities that can be deployed by UK organisations and private companies to maximise the social, economic and environmental impacts of the research.

In summary, the outcomes of this research will significantly benefit the UK public living in and around flood-prone areas, who will be better informed of the likely consequences of impending climatic events, and businesses who can take steps to reduce disruption of their activities, helping to ensure affordable insurance premiums and better quality of life.


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