Building UK climate resilience through bridging the qualitative-quantitative data divide

Lead Research Organisation: University of Liverpool
Department Name: Geography and Planning

Abstract

The UK has witnessed several recent high magnitude floods, droughts, coastal floods and storms, such as winter 2015-16 with estimated costs of between £1.3-1.9 billion (Environment Agency 2018). Current climate resilience is based on experiences garnered over short timescales, with conventional approaches to extreme event understanding often based on relatively short series. As such, the accurate estimation and understanding of high-magnitude low-probability events is challenging. However, historical records can contest and contextualise claims of uniqueness, unparalleled magnitude or severity often associated with contemporary extreme storms, floods, droughts or coastal flooding; addressing the data gap presented by short records. Several databases of collated documentary materials exist, detailing both past mundane and extreme climatic and hydrological events, but also detailing how communities and societies have responded, proving valuable information not routinely used in risk assessment, adaption or resilience planning.

This project addresses these challenges, by building an interdisciplinary network of researchers and end-users from across a range of disciplines (including humanities, sciences, engineering and social sciences) to identify key research gaps and build a scoping network that will identify an approach to bridge the qualitative-quantitative data gap in the climate and hydrological sciences. In doing so it addresses four of the six key challenge areas identified by the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment: i) Flooding and coastal change risks to communities, businesses and infrastructure; ii) Risks to health, well-being and productivity from higher temperatures; iii) Risks of water deficits in public water supply, and for agriculture, energy generation and industry, with impacts on freshwater ecology; and iv) Risks to natural capital, including soils, coastal, marine and freshwater ecosystems, and biodiversity.

There is clear utility and need for uch collaboration, as current flood risk assessments are now legally obliged to consider historical information prior to new development planning permission being granted, as part of the planning process. Most water utility drought plans now assess drought risk over long-term timescales through historically informed analysis. However, there remains a need for greater understanding in how to use and present this information, particularly to help inform societal and community resilience.

We will hold three workshops to address this challenge. Each workshop will have a particular focus: i) start-up scoping event exploring existent qualitative datasets (@RGS London); ii) workshop focused on bridging across datasets and potential new approaches (@Liverpool); and, iii) exploring how historical information and data can be of greatest utility to the widest audience for improving future climate services and thus for improving resilience (@Met Office archives). A key outcome of the workshops will be the development of a new protocol for bridging the 'data gap' across quantitative-qualitative datasets.

The workshops will also address longer-term questions around the potential value of qualitative sources in the provision of more holistic climate services, while creating an interdisciplinary network of experts able to shape such services.

Planned Impact

This scoping network will explore the potential for bridging the qualitative-quantitative data gap in the climate and hydrological sciences to inform climate services. Our fundamental goal is to have an influence on the policy communities, by providing an informed long-term perspective on how historically informed climate and hydrological services can provide value and understanding.

The importance of 'impact' to our proposal can be seen in the delivery of the three workshops that cross disciplinary and sector boundaries, drawn from across a wide-ranging community including government, insurance, engineering consultants, utilities companies, regulatory authorities and academic researchers. Both of our project partners are integrated into international, national and regional seminar/outreach programmes, with contributions to both ACRE and RGS-IBG seminar programmes expected. Inherent in the workshop presentations and discussions are the sharing of perspectives in exploring how historical information can be used and tailored to help vulnerable communities prepare for future climate and hydrological risks.

The key beneficiaries will be local government, regulatory authorities, engineering consultants, utility companies and insurance. All such stakeholders have an interest in improved understanding of extreme events, their consequences and the potential lessons that can be learnt from past experiences.

Access to historical knowledge on coping and adaptive strategies which may otherwise be forgotten will assist in enhancing the societal resilience of communities affected by climate variability, by contextualising contemporary and future climate change risks based on the successes and failures of past responses. This kind of information may also be of use in the development of climate service provision and our network seeks to explore how this qualitative as well as quantitative historical information might be of use to humanitarian organizations, government offices, international agencies and the private sector.

The significance of the proposed work is evidenced in part through Letters of Support provided by Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) Wallingford and National Centre for Atmospheric Sciences (NCAS), both of which recognise the significant potential benefits of a protocol for bridging across the qualitative-quantitative data divide. With recent projects at both research centres having developed new datasets based on qualitative data, with the potential of this being recognised in better understanding risks present by extreme events.

As a result of the short duration, international academic conference presentations are not proposed during the project, but are anticipated subsequently. The principal outcome of this research will be the protocol for bridging across quantitative-qualitative datasets which will be co-produced (white paper and leading journal publication), as we seek to make this approach of the widest utility gold access level publishing will be used; contributing to future UK Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA4).

Publications

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