SRP-IF: Open access global flood hazard layers.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Geographical Sciences


The repeated occurrence of high profile flood events, both within the UK (e.g. Somerset Levels, 2014) and internationally (e.g. Australia and Thailand, 2011), has resulted in sustained public, commercial, political and scientific interest in flood risk. The heightened profile of flooding within the scientific community is reflected in the number of recent and current NERC thematic programmes dedicated wholly or in large part to this topic.

The Hydrology Group at the University of Bristol has been involved in or led numerous programmes, with the result being a substantial improvement in our understanding of flood risk in data-rich regions such as the UK. However flooding is very clearly a worldwide phenomenon and consistent global hazard and risk products do not currently exist but are very urgently required by international governments and NGOs, and by British businesses.

Looking to the future, the continued expansion of cities located on river floodplains and coastal deltas due to population growth and migration is expected to produce a significant increase in flood risk over the coming decades. The prospect is of particular concern to the (re)insurance market, a critical component of the UK financial services sector, as well as to global humanitarian and development organisations such as the World Bank and the United Nations World Food Programme. Recent losses have proven significant: household losses resulting from the summer 2007 floods in the UK reached £2.5 billion, with business losses accounting for a further £1 billion. The reinsurance firm Munich Re estimates that total economic losses from the Australian and Thailand events of 2011 were USD 2.8 billion and USD 40 billion respectively.

Against this background and despite being largely focussed on UK flood risk the above mentioned recent NERC-funded programmes have yielded a number of important research developments that have started to close the knowledge gap that exists for global flood risk. Perhaps most critically, NERC funded research undertaken at the University of Bristol has yielded algorithms that allow very large scale flood models to be undertaken. Further NERC funded research has guided the development of model structures that allow models with global coverage to be developed.

The Hydrology Group at the University of Bristol has built strong links with the insurance market through a long standing partnership with the Willis Research Network, Willis being one of the three dominant global reinsurance brokers. Through this relationship with Willis and other industry partners the potential to develop both freely available global flood hazard layers and commercial flood risk products was identified. Currently flood risk products appropriate for insurance and re-insurance markets exist in only a few territories worldwide. For many developed and emerging markets is near zero provision but significant and growing exposure. At the same time, freely available global flood hazard layers would be a significant benefit to humanitarian agencies such as the World Food Programme and international organisations with significant interests in risk reduction such as the World Bank.

Therefore, this project will produce global flood hazard layers using state of the art methods developed as part of NERC funded science and provide massively open access to these via Google Earth. These layers will be the first global openly accessible assessment of flood hazard that can be used by Governments, NGOs and the entire global public thereby changing fundamentally global awareness of flood hazard and leading to a step change in flood resilience. We will then work with the global (re)insurance industry to identify commercial opportunities relating to this and related NERC funded science. The proposal is supported by Google, NASA-JPL, World Bank, World Food Programme, Willis, Mitsui Sumitomo, Montpelier-Re and the Universities of Reading and Newcastle.


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YAMAZAKI D (2015) Rapid and Stable Flood Inundation Modelling Using the Local Inertial Equation ??????????????????????????? in Journal of Japan Society of Hydrology and Water Resources

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Sampson CC (2015) A high-resolution global flood hazard model. in Water resources research

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Ward P (2015) Usefulness and limitations of global flood risk models in Nature Climate Change

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Smith A (2015) Regional flood frequency analysis at the global scale in Water Resources Research

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O'Loughlin F (2016) A multi-sensor approach towards a global vegetation corrected SRTM DEM product in Remote Sensing of Environment

Description 1. We have developed flood hazard layers with global coverage (Sampson et al., 2015)
2. We have worked with Google to make these data available to the global general public
3. We have worked with numerous NGOs such as the World Bank and Red Cross to help them use our data
4. We have worked with insurance industry to understand their needs from NERC flood risk science
5. We have incorporated a start-up company that is using its own resources to develop products based on this market intelligence.
Exploitation Route Numerous firms are developing their own global flood models based on our blueprint which we have placed in the public domain via peer-reviewed International journal papers.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Energy,Environment,Financial Services, and Management Consultancy,Healthcare,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Transport

Description Our findings have been used by the insurance sector to develop in-house models and analyses, identify new markets and study feasibility options. Our findings have also been used by a number of international NGOs (world Bank, World Food programme, Red Cross, The Nature Conservancy). in their work. We have also worked with Google Crises response to improve flood risk information for the global general public.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Environment,Financial Services, and Management Consultancy,Transport
Impact Types Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

Description LISFLOOD-FP is a state of the art two dimensional flood inundation model developed at the University of Bristol since 1999. 
Type Of Material Computer model/algorithm 
Year Produced 2010 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact A shareware version and training materials are available from the University of Bristol web site and the model has been downloaded by over 500 unique users in > 60 countries since 2010. > 80 papers in International peer-reviewed journals have been written using the models. 
Company Name SSBN Ltd. 
Description SSBN was formed to develop and licence risk products to the global insurance industry, national governments and NGOs such as the World Bank. 
Year Established 2013 
Impact Development of the first high resolution global hydrodynamic model to produce global flood hazard layers. Collaboration with Google to host these layers on Google Earth Developed a bespoke flood hazard map for Belize for the World Bank