Erosion Hazards in River Catchments: Making Critical Infrastructure More Climate Resilient

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

Abstract

Society has entered a new era of climate change where the environmental consequences of warming are being observed and experienced directly. Arguably the most severe impacts of climate change on critical infrastructure will be an increase in the frequency and severity of storms, leading to more extreme erosion events. The impacts of erosion hazards are of strategic national importance because they are wide ranging, costly and critical to the vulnerability of assets. In the UK these hazards cause £336M a year in extra flood damage, are a considerable source of water pollution totalling costs of £238M a year, and increase the costs of water treatment and maintenance of drainage networks by £132M a year. They cause considerable damage to infrastructure such as bridges, flood defences and electricity pylons, and account for 25% of valid subsidence insurance claims. Thus creating resilient, sustainable infrastructure depends on understanding the potential future risks of changing erosion hazards and their impact. Yet at present, no predictive modelling framework exists for erosion hazards, and therefore we do not understand:
- The future risks posed to critical infrastructure
- How vulnerable and resilient these assets will be to increased frequency and severity of erosion hazards in a changing climate

Thus decision makers currently face questions about mitigation strategies that are very difficult to answer: (1) Where to act to make an asset more resilient? (2) When action is required: now or can investment be postponed? This feasibility project aims to provide answers to these questions by creating a new computer model to quantify how future climate scenarios will affect the frequency and severity of erosion hazards in river catchments and the vulnerability of key assets and how we might best mitigate their impact. New risk analyses will be produced to create a novel decision-support tool to provide a coherent robust evidence base for decision making. This approach will ultimately allow stakeholders to assess how they will respond to erosion hazards and enhance their mitigation strategies to provide more benefits for our societies; reducing hazard costs and improving the resilience of critical infrastructure to climate change.

The outputs will include:
- Scientific insights into the changing erosion risk across the UK as a result of climate projections
- How erosion hazards influence the vulnerability and resilience of critical infrastructure to a changing climate
- An integrated quantitative predictive modelling framework and decision-support tool that provides the much needed strong evidence base for sustainable, resilient decision making
- Deepened engagement between scientists, stakeholders, industry, and NGOs.

Planned Impact

Who might benefit from this research?
The project will open up a whole new area of hazard science, providing new predictive capability for the changing impacts of erosion on critical infrastructure, and their resilience to a warming climate. A new decision-support tool (DST) will assist in the drawing-up sustainable, resilient erosion management plans. Thus, the outputs benefit a diverse set of groups:
1. Short-term (<10 years): stakeholders, industry, non-governmental organisations (NGOs)
2. Long-term (>10 years): conservation and aid agencies, general public

How might they benefit from this research?
1.1. Stakeholders with a duty or powers to protect the environment: Given the wide-ranging economic and environmental impacts of erosion on water quality, infrastructure, ecosystem services and flooding, the modelling tools and DST will transform how stakeholders plan and respond to erosion hazards. For the first time, they will be able to assess where erosion hazards are a problem, and when action is required, reducing operational costs and improving strategic planning. These stakeholders include: (i) Defra, charged with safeguarding our natural environment; (ii) national environment protection agencies (e.g. EA, SEPA) with a statutory duty to protect and enhance the water environment to European legal standards, including pollution prevention and flood management; (iii) local authorities responsible for meeting the current and future requirements for local infrastructure and public services, including surface water flood risk and protection, and preservation of the local environment; and (iv) government departments (e.g. DofT) and utility companies (e.g. EDF, National Grid, United Utilities).
1.2. Industry: The outputs benefit five industrial sectors (i) consultancy industry concerned with implementation of erosion control engineering and impacts on flood risk, by providing new simulation tools and metrics for their clients, ultimately resulting in better design and implementation, increasing the competitiveness of the UK consultancy industry; (ii) erosion control industry, in the assessment of the long term need for products under different climate scenarios (storm regimes), providing an excellent evidence base for clients and improving market competitiveness; (iii) water industry, in the identification of urban drainage and reservoir assets at risk from erosion and sedimentation - which has a considerable negative impact on asset performance and exacerbates surface flooding - reducing water treatment costs; (iv) insurance industry, through tools that allow re-insurers and brokers to better estimate potential financial losses; (v) firms involved in construction or maintenance works and their need to comply with environmental law, through better assessment of silt pollution risks and implementation of control measures in high risk areas.
1.3. NGOs: The DST will benefit: (i) wildlife and river trusts by identifying threatened river and wetland habitats; (ii) farming advisors through identifying which farms are producing significant soil loss and degradation; (iii) Natural England by identifying threatened designated sites and the best way to protect them.
2.1.Conservation & aid agencies: (i) conservation agencies (e.g. WWF, RSPB and WHO), by providing the means by which to assess potential impacts of erosion on ecosystem services; (ii) aid agencies in disaster management (e.g. Oxfam and Red Cross) through the better assessment of potential erosion impacts on water quality and thus human health.
2.2. General Public: Allowing decision makers to better assess erosion risk and ultimately mitigation will improve: (i) the economy of local communities by protecting key infrastructure, reducing maintenance costs, and ultimately reducing the financial burden on the public; and (ii) landscape and aquatic ecology, providing a quality environment that puts people in closer contact with nature, and improves social wellbeing.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Using a 2D erosion model for extreme storm events, we have produced the first maps of erosion hazard (probability of erosion impact and extent e.g. number of assets) and damage (economic loss), the product of which has been probability maps of infrastructure at risk. These have been used to identify the differential risk to infrastructure. We are beginning to estimate the vulnerability of these assets and identify which require investment to ensure they stay resilient to extreme storm events in the future. We have also produced a pilot geospatial Decision-Support Tool (DST), that will be available online for free, that visualises and communicates erosion risk using decision-relevant terms and metrics. The tool acts as an interrogation front-end for the model simulation data that sits behind the interface, requiring no user modelling. The DST provides a mechanism for visualising how future erosion risk compares with the present, and where and when erosion control may need to be implemented according to the type of asset and the scale of the problem.
Exploitation Route For the first time, stakeholders will be able to assess where erosion hazards are a problem, and when action is required, reducing operational costs and improving strategic planning. These stakeholders include: (i) Defra, charged with safeguarding our natural environment; (ii) national environment protection agencies (e.g. EA, SEPA) with a statutory duty to protect and enhance the water environment to European legal standards, including pollution prevention and flood management; (iii) local authorities responsible for meeting the current and future requirements for local infrastructure and public services, including surface water flood risk and protection, and preservation of the local environment; and (iv) government departments (e.g. DofT) and utility companies (e.g. EDF, National Grid, United Utilities).

The outputs benefit five industrial sectors (i) consultancy industry concerned with implementation of erosion control engineering and impacts on flood risk, by providing new simulation tools and metrics for their clients, ultimately resulting in better design and implementation, increasing the competitiveness of the UK consultancy industry; (ii) erosion control industry, in the assessment of the long term need for products under different climate scenarios (storm regimes), providing an excellent evidence base for clients and improving market competitiveness; (iii) water industry, in the identification of urban drainage and reservoir assets at risk from erosion and sedimentation - which has a considerable negative impact on asset performance and exacerbates surface flooding - reducing water treatment costs; (iv) insurance industry, through tools that allow re-insurers and brokers to better estimate potential financial losses; (v) firms involved in construction or maintenance works and their need to comply with environmental law, through better assessment of silt pollution risks and implementation of control measures in high risk areas.

The Decision Support Tool will benefit: (i) wildlife and river trusts by identifying threatened river and wetland habitats; (ii) farming advisors through identifying which farms are producing significant soil loss and degradation; (iii) Natural England by identifying threatened designated sites and the best way to protect them; (iv) conservation agencies (e.g. WWF, RSPB and WHO), by providing the means by which to assess potential impacts of erosion on ecosystem services; and (v) aid agencies in disaster management (e.g. Oxfam and Red Cross) through the better assessment of potential erosion impacts on water quality and thus human health.

The project is the first to provide an integrated risk-assessment of changing erosion hazards in a warming climate, and thus opens up a new avenue of erosion hazard science by providing approaches, software tools and metrics that move risk assessment beyond the simple quantification of hazards. This transformative work will be of great benefit to those researching natural hazards, particularly the hazards that occur due to extreme storm events. Due to the multidisciplinary nature of the work, the outcomes will have major impacts on a number of other disciplines: (i) the environmental science and engineering community, through a sounder physical understanding of the controls of erosion, the inter-relationships between hillslope and fluvial erosion dynamics, and their role in long-term landscape evolution and slope and river stability; (ii) economists and mathematicians who work on simulating economic loss and insurance costs from natural hazards through an improved prediction of risk; (iii) town planners who assess the resilience and development plans of cities to future climate change through new consideration of erosion hazard and risk to critical infrastructure; and (iv) social scientists through awareness of how social demography is affected by, and can affect, hazard vulnerability.
Sectors Construction,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Energy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice,Transport

 
Description Assessment of Erosion Resilience
Amount £81,000 (GBP)
Funding ID DCWW1539 
Organisation Welsh Water 
Sector Private
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2022 
End 04/2023
 
Description Climate Resilience of EDF's Current Fleet: Impact of Flooding and Erosion from Extreme Rainfall
Amount £70,071 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/W006960/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2021 
End 01/2022
 
Description Enhancing the climate resilience of the energy network sector: Forecasting the risk and vulnerability of electricity transmission towers to erosion
Amount £10,000 (GBP)
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2021 
End 11/2022
 
Description Improving emergency response to extreme storm events in a changing climate: Impacts of flooding and erosion on road accessibility
Amount £6,900 (GBP)
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2020 
End 08/2021
 
Description Quantifying the Impact of Extreme Storms on Slope Erosion: Improving our Capacity to Forecast Erosion Hazards
Amount £81,163 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/V008404/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2020 
End 08/2024
 
Title Erosion hazards Decision Support Tool 
Description We have created a new web-based geospatial DST for stakeholders to assist in drawing-up sustainable, resilient erosion management plans. This mapping software is designed for the non-specialist, acting as a visualisation and interrogation front-end for the model simulation data that sits behind the interface, requiring no user modelling. This DST supports operational (immediate) and strategic (medium to long term i.e. 10+ years) decision making through the provision of an interface that enables the user to explore: (i) areas and infrastructure (e.g. by asset-type) presently at risk (likelihood and extent) and vulnerable (economic loss) to extreme erosion events; (ii) the extent to which this erosion risk changes with climate, highlighting the differential vulnerability of infrastructure; and (iii) identify key locations and 'tipping points' at which increased vulnerability to erosion challenges operations, and current erosion control and land-use policy is no longer viable. The user interface enables interrogation of different climate change scenarios, to provide stakeholders with an assessment that can ultimately feed into a strategy that builds climate change resilience. In essence, the DST allows key stakeholders to explore the likelihood of severe erosion impacts under future climate scenarios. Consequently, the DST provides a mechanism for visualising how future erosion risk compares with the present, and where and when erosion control may need to be implemented according to the type of asset and the scale of the problem. 
Type Of Technology Webtool/Application 
Year Produced 2020 
Impact The software has been used by a hydrology consultancy, Waterco.