Research has helped improve the design, communication and use of state-of-the-art flooding forecasts – supporting flood planning and responses at local, national and international levels.

Impacts

  • In Essex, the research supported the development of a decision-support system used to operate the Colne Flood Barrier. Costly and potentially contentious decisions are now made in a more consistent, risk-informed way by combining state-of-the-art technology with local knowledge.
  • The Met Office responded to recommendations from this study by increasing the number of Public Weather Service advisors across the UK, to enhance resilience to major national incidents and respond to real-time emergencies.
  • In Europe, the research provided evidence of the operational value and limits of the European Flood Awareness System (EFAS), reinforcing the European Commission's commitment to develop EFAS into a fully operational system.
  • Findings about widespread misunderstanding of EFAS alerts by recipients resulted in help being given in the design and delivery of improved training. Annual EFAS user workshops were arranged to alleviate confusion.
  • Research into the visualisation of ensemble-flood predictions informed several redesigns of the EFAS alert interface. EFAS forecasts can now be represented as hydrographs, helping people to better understand the local significance of alerts.
  • Two of the researchers have been contracted by the Hydrological Bureau of Anhui Province, China, to integrate ensemble forecasting routines in the Huai River catchment area into existing local systems.

"Flood prediction systems and routines developed by King's College London are improving the forecast quality and lead-times in the upper Huai River – an area prone to extreme flooding." (Yuzhong Hu, Chief Engineer and Deputy Director, Hydrological Bureau of Anhui Province, China)

About the research

The widespread UK flooding at the beginning of 2014 saw many hectares of land under water, communities isolated, and people forced out of their homes as the waters rose. ESRC-funded researchers at King's College London have been exploring whether flood predictions could be improved, in order to provide more time to prepare and reduce the impact.

Drawing on insights from human and physical geography, the team led by Professor David Demeritt worked closely with forecasting agencies such as the Met Office and Environment Agency.

The study focused on improving the communication and use of so-called 'ensemble' flood predictions to provide earlier warning.

Ensemble forecasting has emerged over recent years as an alternative to more conventional forecasting, which provides a single scenario with no assessment of its uncertainty. By contrast, the models that the researchers worked on generate a suite (or 'ensemble') of predictions that communicate this uncertainty and enable the most likely, and most extreme, scenarios to be identified. The information can be shared with emergency management services to help evaluate risks and aid preparedness planning and emergency response.

The research has significantly advanced the design and practical application of flood forecasting systems. In the UK, the project has had an impact both locally and nationally. Further afield, it has influenced and informed practices and systems in mainland Europe and the Far East.