Multi-objective Optimisation of Urban Environments under Climate Change Uncertainty

Lead Research Organisation: Heriot-Watt University
Department Name: Sch of Energy, Geosci, Infrast & Society


With a rapidly changing climate combined with increasing urbanisation, the UK's population and properties are facing increasing flood risk, both in terms of frequency and magnitude. Extreme events such as Storm Desmond devastated the country causing an estimated £500m worth of damage1, equating to half of what is spent annually on maintaining flood defences in the UK2. The corresponding human cost, however, is harder to quantify. Current flood policy and regulation in Scotland, England, and Wales assess our engineering systems substantially in monetary terms through traditional cost-benefit analyses3, although due to the more intangible nature of social systems, consideration for the impacts of flooding on society do not extend much further than injury or loss of life4. This oversight has produced a gap between social and engineering systems as recent research suggests that hard engineering approaches to flood risk management such as levees and dykes potentially increases the long-term risk from events such as Storm Desmond5,6. In addition, current methods typically do not quantify the impacts of uncertainty in climate change predictions and flood model predictions. Neglecting uncertainty in our approaches only limits our systems in their ability to respond, recover and adapt and overcome the effects of extreme, unexpected events thus making them non-resilient.

This project argues for a more holistic approach to flood risk management in the UK, where both engineering and social systems are considered together in the development of long-term sustainable plans, which will increase the resilience of at-risk populations. This work will involve the analysis of potential trade-offs between hard engineering, natural flood management and property/community level flood protection strategies by minimising tangible and intangible impacts (exposure) whilst enhancing response, recovery and adaptability (resilience).

Using outputs from other work in the Water Resilient Cities project related to understanding hydraulic model uncertainty, this PhD aims to incorporate traditional flood risk management methods through hydraulic modelling (TELEMAC 2D) to develop picture of changing flood risk in selected case study locations. Existing methods such as flood vulnerability indices and fuzzy set theory8 will be developed to quantify the resilience of social-engineering systems, and in addition, integrating tangible and intangible impacts will enable a holistic quantification of exposure that spans both systems in question. Used in conjunction with recent demographic data for chosen case study locations, multi-objective optimisation techniques that incorporate climate change uncertainty will be utilised to produce optimal and reliable solutions based on minimising exposure and maximising resilience. These can be examined to determine whether social resilience is compromised by hard and soft engineering interventions. Through working with Kaya Consulting, this work will draw upon industry knowledge and practice by testing a range of engineering solutions.

This project intends to draw upon qualitative data from both the physical and social systems to build a resilience profile of society. The results will be analysed to assess whether flood control does in fact compromise flood resilience, and discuss optimum engineering solutions in an uncertainty context depending on location and demographic in question. Successful development of such an approach aims to boost confidence in decisions despite climate change uncertainty as the most vulnerable areas of society are prepared and able to adapt to extreme floods.


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McClymont K (2019) Flood resilience: a systematic review in Journal of Environmental Planning and Management

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McClymont, K. (2020) Understanding Disaster Risk

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/R512539/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2021
1989514 Studentship EP/R512539/1 02/10/2017 17/06/2021 David Morrison