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University of Hull co-leading £3.7m EvoFlood collaboration to better predict global flood risk

25 February 2021

University of Hull co-leading £3.7m EvoFlood collaboration to better predict global flood risk

Experts at the Universities of Hull and Southampton are leading a new £3.7m project which aims to revolutionise our understanding of global flood risk.

Working as part of a consortium of nine UK universities, as well as multiple national and international organisations, the team has been successful in winning major grant funding from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

The new project, titled EvoFlood, aims to create the next generation Global Flood Model – a state-of-the-art computer model used to simulate the probability of flooding across the Earth.

Professor Dan Parsons, Director of the Energy and Environment Institute at the University of Hull, along with Professor Steve Darby at the University of Southampton, are the Principal Investigators on the project.

Professor Parsons said: “Flooding is the deadliest and most costly natural hazard on the planet, devastating communities across the globe.

“Every year, on average, over 6,000 people are killed as a result of flooding, with economic losses exceeding $60bn. Unfortunately, these problems will only become more severe in the future.

“That is why improved modelling and simulation of these flood events is so critical in protecting both people’s lives and livelihoods from the effects of climate change.”

Globally, nearly one billion people are potentially exposed to the risk of flooding, with around 300 million on average being impacted by floods in any given year.

Faced with this vast societal challenge, reliable tools are urgently needed to predict how flood hazard and exposure will change in the years and decades to come.

Existing state-of-the-art Global Flood Models (GFMs) are used to simulate the probability of flooding across the Earth, but they are not without their limitations.

Professor Darby said: “Existing Global Flood Models do not represent the ways in which river channels and floodplains change through time through erosion and sedimentation. These GFMs instead treat rivers as fixed 'static pipes’.”

If rivers become shallower or wider, then their capacity to contain floods changes over time. Existing models which neglect this process therefore make poor predictions over the long term. It is this limitation that the EvoFlood team will tackle.

Using the latest advances in using cell phone technology to track shifting populations, the new models will also provide a greater understanding of how communities are exposed – and respond – to flood events.

Professor Parsons said: “The project outputs, including new flood hazard and risk maps, will be shared on open platforms, accessible to all, benefiting scientists, policy-makers, humanitarian agencies and societies across the globe.”

The EvoFlood team is partnering with a wide range of key stakeholders to ensure that the results will make a positive societal impact.

Sue Manson, Principal Scientist at Environment Agency, said: “The Environment Agency is pleased to be a Project Partner supporting the EvoFlood Project, which aims to develop a new generation of global scale flood models.  

“We support the aims of the research programme which is committed to developing practical learning that will benefit current and future generations and I look forward to working with the project team.”

Mark Fletcher, Global Water Business Leader at Arup, said: “Arup is pleased to be a Project Partner supporting the EvoFlood Project which focuses on the Evolution of Global Flood Hazard and Risk.

“The EvoFlood research programme is committed to developing practical, innovative and sustainable learning and knowledge for the benefit of existing and future generations.”

The EvoFlood project will look to answer a number of key questions, including:

  • What is the relative importance on flooding of changes in the climate versus changes in river shape?
  • How will global flood hazard and risk change in the future?
  • What does this mean for the functioning of Earth’s complex floodplains which are corridors of life across the globe?
  • How do populations respond to flooding, and how can this knowledge be used to inform societal response in the future?

The project will also utilise the state-of-the-art Total Environmental Simulator at Hull which will be used to experimentally model river dynamics.

The facility director, Dr Stuart McLelland will lead this part of the research, and said: “In our flume experiments we will be able to test how channels change through time, for example becoming shallower if they silt up or becoming wider if their banks erode.

“As a result, we can test the ability of rivers to change and adapt to flooding over time. In doing so we can improve existing computer models which neglect these processes and therefore make poor predictions.”

The University of Hull has developed a global reputation for its expertise in flood hazard and risk over a number of years and has recently launched a new Masters programme in Flood Risk Management.

The MSc will train the next generation of specialists to help society become more resilient to flooding, while teaching embeds major research projects like Evoflood into the programme so that students understand the latest approaches to managing flood risks.

The work will be hosted within the Energy and Environment Institute, which is now home to over 100 staff and PhD researchers.

The Institute is leading research in some of the parts of the world most at-risk from climate change, including flood prone areas such as Vietnam’s Mekong and Red River deltas, the Congo River in Africa, as well as locations much closer to home.

The University was also recently successful in securing £1.35m of funding for a new Leverhulme Doctoral Scholarships Centre for Water Cultures.

The Centre, led by Dr Briony McDonagh, will pioneer a new, humanities-led, interdisciplinary research area, the ‘green-blue’ humanities.

Researchers at the new Centre for Water Cultures will learn from the past, from multiple disciplines and from Western, non-Western and Indigenous water cultures, with the aim of improving our understanding and resilience to water shocks and stresses including flood, drought and unclean water.

You can follow the progress of the EvoFlood project by following the team on Twitter at @EvoFlood, or online at https://www.hull.ac.uk/work-with-us/research/institutes/energy-and-environment-institute/our-work/evoflood-quantifying-the-evolution-of-flood-hazard-and-risk-across-a-changing-world/

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