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UK consortium launches flood centre to train next generation of PhD students in developing new approaches to forecast floods and develop flood strategies
Thursday, 25 January 2024, By Nicola Smith
A consortium of UK scientists has received £6.5 million to launch a research and training centre designed to better understand and manage flooding in the UK.
Led by the University of Southampton, it will work to develop a talent pool of environmental experts invested in protecting against rising river, rainfall and sea levels. It is also aiming to make the UK more resilient to flooding.
The FLOOD centre includes experts from the universities of Bristol, Loughborough and Newcastle, the National Oceanography Centre, UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and British Geological Survey.
For the UK, the period between July and December 2023 was the wettest since records began in 1890, with autumn rainfall at 22% above average. December saw 70% above average rainfall for some areas in central and northern England and eastern Scotland. Currently one in six households in the UK are in flood-prone areas.
Ivan Haigh, a Professor of Sea Level and Coastal Impact at the University of Southampton will oversee the FLOOD centre. He said: “Flooding is the most destructive natural hazard that humanity faces with nearly two billion people exposed to its risk. We need to act now and come together to improve the way we manage the large and growing threat of flooding in the UK and elsewhere in the world.
“We will train experts to best understand how to tackle the challenges of floods in future years, not only for the UK but countries globally who are facing extreme problems from climate change.”
The biggest drivers of flooding are increased river flow, surface runoff, storm surges and waves, said Prof Haigh, which are compounded by climate change and shifting populations. The new hub will work to combat these growing challenges.
Funding for the multimillion-pound centre has been provided by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) together with the seven centres and other partners. Scientists will work to improve their understanding of flooding using advanced monitoring and new forms of computer modelling, artificial intelligence and machine learning to map and forecast future flooding risks.
The centre is supported by 37 organisations in the flood sector across the UK – from local authorities, national government, water, energy and infrastructure companies, environmental, engineering and management consultancies, regulators, finance and (re)insurance companies and charities.
Jeffrey Neal, Professor of Hydrology at the University of Bristol said that recent flooding across the UK from storms Babet, Ciaran and Henk has highlighted the impact of floods on our society. “We also know that floods are likely to become more frequent and devastating due to climate change and ongoing development of floodplains.
“Better managing floods and their impacts will be a long-term challenge and we are delighted to launch a new centre to train the next generation of scientists to tackle this problem.”
Ben Murray, Associate Director from sustainable development collective, ARUP said: “As recently witnessed in both global and domestic events, the flood risk challenges posed to society and the environment from a changing climate are profound, systemic and increasingly complex. Therefore, training the next generation of interdisciplinary practitioners is essential.”
Professor Dan Parsons, Pro-Vice Chancellor Research and Innovation and Professor in Geosciences at Loughborough University said: “The recent flooding across the Midlands and in other parts of the country is a timely reminder of the critical need to focus research into building a society resilient to flooding.”
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