Creating a UK network to help tackle flood and drought risk

Dr Nick Chappell
Dr Nick Chappell

The Floods and Droughts Research Infrastructure (FDRI) project will install a network of hydrological instruments across three different river catchments in the UK, alongside the digital infrastructure to make data readily available.

“This is about doing really novel catchment scale science and catchment scale problem-solving, whether we are dealing with drought in the Thames basin or flooding in Wales,” said Dr Nick Chappell, Reader in hydrological processes at the Lancaster Environment Centre. His role as Chief Scientific Advisor is to ensure the project delivers the information hydrologists need to help cope with the future challenges posed by too much, or too little, rainfall.

“We will be identifying what is the base infrastructure we need to do this important research. There are certain things we do badly at the moment: for example, we don’t have rain gauges on top of many mountains and, while we can measure the moisture in a ‘bucket full’ of soil, we can’t measure subsurface moisture well over very large scales.”

The project is funded through the Natural Environment Research Council, the first time the UK Government has financed a network of research hydrological infrastructure at a national scale.

The UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, which is leading the project, is currently identifying three potential UK catchments that represent different types of landscape, climate and geology, and is choosing what instruments to install. They will then test their ideas with an Advisory Committee, chaired by Nick and made up of experts from all parts of the hydrological community including academia, government agencies, the water industry and other end users of research.

“We want the engagement of the UK hydrological community to make sure that the measurements prioritised, the instruments chosen and the places where instruments are installed will provide the infrastructure that the community needs for research,” said Nick, a former President of the British Hydrological Society and expert in natural flood management.

“We need to be predicting what are the issues that we will be dealing with in five- or ten-years’ time and what are the difficult academic questions we will have to answer to solve them,” said Nick.

As well as installing novel technology, the FDRI project is creating the digital infrastructure necessary for the data to be open to all and available when it is needed. This will include not just data from the new installations, but also from existing instruments provided by public bodies such as the Environment Agency, local councils and academic institutions.

“It will mean that hydrologists can get a virtual fieldwork experience wherever they are. Whether they are in Scotland or in London, they will be able to engage with the data in real time as if they were there in the field,” said Nick, who will be spending a third of his time for the next 2 years working on the project.

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