[17 June 2020]

Launching an impactful inquiry

Shaping understanding of the current climate

By Dr. Kate Smith, Researcher, Flood Innovation Centre

In response to the devastating floods of Autumn and Winter in 2019-2020, the Government’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee launched an inquiry into flooding. In previous periods of prolonged bad weather, multiple areas of the UK were affected – but as London is relatively well protected, it can be hard for our legislators and senior civil servants to appreciate the impact that events like these have on the ground. Inquiries like this bring together information from business, research and communities to help shape the Government’s understanding of what’s going on.

The different research projects going on at the Energy and Environment Institute, home to the Flood Innovation Centre, demonstrate that hazards represented by flooding have multiple dimensions. Solutions to them need to take these complex inter-relationships into account.

For example, when thunderstorms move across a landscape, the volume and rapid discharge of rain can be so intense that it actually changes the shape of river and stream-beds. This means that, as well as lots of extra water flowing off high ground, you can also get large amounts of sediment – rocks, gravel, mud and sand. This changes how flooding happens downstream: if you dumped several tonnes of gravel and rocks into a swimming pool, it would likely overflow.

Using cutting-edge technology and expertise to build further knowledge
Image source: 2B Landscape Consultancy Ltd

Our researchers develop understanding of the way that this happens by using mathematical and computer modelling, as well as using real-life observation and physical models. What their work shows is that, just like other aspects of the natural world, water in the landscape is part of a complex web of processes and interactions. If we want better solutions to the problems that happen when water ends up in the wrong place, we need to understand more about the impact of changes in that web of reactions.

What makes the Flood Innovation Centre unique is that it opens up that expertise to SME innovators who have the creativity and ambition to be part of designing and marketing some of those solutions.