PYRAMID: Platform for dYnamic, hyper-resolution, near-real time flood Risk AssessMent Integrating repurposed and novel Data sources

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: Sch of Engineering

Abstract

Flooding has been identified by the government as the number one priority and risk to the UK. Flooding already causes millions of pounds worth of damage to people's homes, infrastructure and the economy every year, and is projected to become even more severe under climate change. Being able to plan for, respond to and manage flooding effectively is therefore essential.

We are lucky to have a tradition of flood management in the UK led by the Environment Agency. Operational flood models use meteorological data combined with elevation data to show us where flooding will occur. These models produce flood risk maps for planning and forecasting purposes and have helped us design flood defences for many areas.

However, flooding is not only dependent on the topography of an area. There are many other factors at play that evolve over time: culverts can get blocked, flood gates are left open and flood walls can fall into disrepair. This can dramatically alter the extent and depth of a flood. Not only that, but our exposure to flood risk changes too. Far less disruption occurs from a flood overnight than during rush hour traffic. A prime example of this is the flooding of Boscastle in 2004. During the event, 116 cars parked in a carpark were washed downstream, blocking a bridge, causing water to back up and flood unexpected areas. If the rain had fallen in the evening, the cars would not have been in the carpark and the impact of the flood would have been smaller. Could we have predicted this? Can we reduce the impact of flooding for similar future events? We think that with the right data and tools, we can.

We will build a tool that will change how we respond to flood risks as they evolve. The tool will allow flood risk managers to deploy just-in-time maintenance and alleviation measures, such as clearing critical blocked culverts or setting up mobile flood defences. To achieve this, the tool will incorporate brand new types of data and cutting edge flood models into an easy-to-use online platform that allows users to visualise evolving flood risks. The platform (called PYRAMID) will be developed in conjunction with the Environment Agency, local authorities and community groups to ensure that it delivers relevant information for critical decision-making in near-real time. The platform will have toolkits to make it easy for communities to incorporate their data, providing essential local information.

The new data driving this modelling will be key. The data that we need are available but sit fragmented across a range of organisations in difficult-to-use formats. We will use artificial intelligence to extract this useful information from hidden datasets, such as old reports, flood asset registers and various types of satellite imagery. In addition, we want to incorporate brand new information from novel sensors that are being deployed as part of Newcastle University's Urban Observatory. These sensors monitor things like soil moisture and rainfall at very high resolutions, as well as other factors like traffic and congestion. We can also monitor the condition of specific factors affecting flood risk, such as whether particular culverts are blocked or whether certain flood walls are in poor condition. These factors can be monitored by looking at a combination of satellite remote sensing and sensors deployed on lorries and other vehicles. We will also harness data collected communities and citizens.

All of this information will be put into our flood models. We have a hyper-resolution hydrodynamic flood model that can accurately simulate the movement of debris in flood flows at a centimetre scale. This model will work in conjunction with a broader catchment model, which will provide information on the hydrological conditions in the wider area. The platform will be trialled in Newcastle to take advantage of existing government investments in the Urban Observatory and a legacy of flood research conducted here.

Planned Impact

We categorise beneficiaries into two main groups.

Practitioners, regulators and policymakers: beneficiaries include organisations such as the Environment Agency, who are responsible for managing flood risk, forecasting and warning the public of floods and who still have gaps in their understanding of other data that may help strengthen their understanding of flood risk, as well as provide evidence for decision making; the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), with overall policy responsibility for flood and coastal erosion risk in England; the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) with responsibility for coordinating UK resilience to major floods through the coordination of regional and local organisations and emergency planning.

This research would also be of interest to the Committee on Climate Change, to inform the next UK Climate Change Risk Assessment and subsequent action. Other users with potential benefits from this research are Category 1 and Category 2 responders as laid out in the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 (e.g. emergency services, transport and highways agencies, utilities) and the general public. To date citizen science data are less readily used by professionals to support real applications, despite offering new and different types of data which can fill data gaps at a local level.

Our proposed approach would also help support local Environment Agency Community Engagement Officers, who work with residents, public groups, land owners, businesses and schools to help them plan and prepare to reduce the impacts of a flood event. They will also help to build trust between community groups and our partner organisations, and raise awareness through education.

Community, charity and local interest groups, and citizen scientist networks: by working with a community group directly as a project partner (Action 4 Acomb), and indirectly through the facilitation of various groups by our environmental charity project partners (Tyne Rivers Trust) the project focuses on live flood risk challenges and issues in the citizen science pilot: sustainable data collection; data organisation, analysis and visualisation tools; accessible data integrated with 'traditional' sources of data.

When it comes to understanding flood risk and management, our stakeholders and beneficiaries face common issues with regards to: lack of data, or sustainable data collection to understand complex environmental issues and pressures, or to provide the evidence-base to make decisions or to lobby for interventions; ability to analyse and visualise data, either as a single data source or integrated with 'traditional' or national sensor networks, or sources of data that are often siloed, inaccessible, or archived after project completion in different organisations; tools and platforms that readily assimilate the most useful and applicable data and state-of-the art modelling to understand flood risk in near real-time.

This project will address these issues by:

Collaborating with a range of stakeholders (including citizens, government agencies and industry) to co-design, co-produce, co-evaluate and co-promote a web-application tool, and to extract, 'hidden data' that may inform understanding flood risk and management.

Creating a dynamic flood risk component dataset which will extract multi-scale information from fragmented heterogeneous datasets, integrate, and structure the data needed to model cascading failures important for flood risk.

Assimilating the new datasets into cutting-edge, physically-based hydrological and hydrodynamic models to predict plausible mechanisms and outcomes of flooding from rainfall to inundation.

An ultimately, to develop a web platform demonstrator to interrogate observations and model outputs, and visualise dynamic flood risk maps with (near) real-time updates.

Publications

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Allan RP (2020) Advances in understanding large-scale responses of the water cycle to climate change. in Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences

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Fowler H (2021) Anthropogenic intensification of short-duration rainfall extremes in Nature Reviews Earth & Environment

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Fowler HJ (2021) Intensification of short-duration rainfall extremes and implications for flood risk: current state of the art and future directions. in Philosophical transactions. Series A, Mathematical, physical, and engineering sciences

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Fowler HJ (2021) Towards advancing scientific knowledge of climate change impacts on short-duration rainfall extremes. in Philosophical transactions. Series A, Mathematical, physical, and engineering sciences

 
Description Director of the NERC One Planet Doctoral Training Programme
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact ONE Planet DTP delivering a transdisclipinary training environment to train future leaders in environmental science and application connected to climate change.
 
Description Environment Agency Expert panel for Boosting Action in Surface Water: Plausible Extremes
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
 
Description External Examiner for MSc in Water Science Policy and Management, Oxford University
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
 
Description Met Office Hadley Centre Climate Programme Science Review Group
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
 
Description NERC E4 DTP External Advisory Panel, Edinburgh University - Hayley Fowler
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
 
Description NERC PRC Panel B Chair
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
 
Description Strategic Advisory Board for RESAS Science
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
 
Description cco-chair of net zero task force in Newcastle
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Membership of a guideline committee
Impact Released climate change net zero action plan in September 2020. Newcastle named a global 'climate leader' by the CDP in Nov 2020. The city is one of only four places in the UK to receive the top "A" grade from international climate research provider CDP, and one of only 88 globally. CDP scores cities across four consecutive levels which represent the steps cities move through as they progress towards environmental stewardship. The levels are: Disclosure, Awareness, Management and Leadership. Over 830 cities disclosed their climate data through CDP in 2020 and in order to score an A rating a city must have a city-wide emissions inventory, have set an emissions reduction target, published a climate action plan and have completed a climate adaptation plan to demonstrate how it will tackle climate hazards now and in the future.
URL https://www.newcastle.gov.uk/our-city/climate-change-newcastle/net-zero-newcastle-2030-action-plan
 
Description Constructing a Digital Environment talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact gave very short talks to the CDE forum:

Constructing a Digital Environment- NERC and PI's Discussion. Thursday, 29 October 2020 from 11:30 to 13:30
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Seminar to Durham University's Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Seminar to Durham University's Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience by Liz Lewis on Monday 8th March 2021
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description a talk about PYRAMID at the 'Place-Based Conference: The Role of Universities in Sustainable, Just & Inclusive Cities' conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact gave a talk about PYRAMID at the 'Place-Based Conference: The Role of Universities in Sustainable, Just & Inclusive Cities' conference with the University of Pittsburgh on 22nd January. International, audience of ~40.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021