Sea change for Hull
Low-lying, vulnerable to sea, river and surface water, Britain’s second-biggest flood risk after London… It’s no wonder decision-makers, environmental regulators and residents are concerned about the city of Hull’s long-term sustainable future.
On December 5, 2013, the Humber recorded the largest tidal wave of all time. Around 1,100 properties and over 7,000 hectares of land were flooded, affecting industry and infrastructure around the estuary, as well as trade, transport and manufacturing.
Earlier, on June 25, 2007, the city’s drainage systems were overloaded on the wettest day in one of the wettest months on record. More than 10,000 homes were evacuated, nearly all of Hull’s 98 schools were damaged and one life was tragically lost. The cost of repairs across the city has been estimated at more than £40million.
“These ‘one-off’ floods will become more frequent as sea levels rise and we experience more storms,” says Mike Dobson, who works for Arup, a global specialist in the sustainable built environment, and has spent 15 years working in the Humber area for the Environment Agency .
“It’s critical that places like Hull make informed decisions about how best to reduce risk and increase resilience.”
Mike Dobson, Arup
“Fortunately, there is a wealth of climate data available,” says Professor Tom Spencer, director of the Cambridge Coastal Research Unit in the Department of Geography. “Ideally, you would incorporate this highly specialized climate science modeling into informed decision-making.”
But that’s not easy, explains Spencer: “It’s a very complex set of tasks that require a lot of resources – and most organizations just don’t have them. So what happens is that everything is oversimplified and only a small number of possible scenarios are considered – not enough to build in the uncertainties of the climate changes we face.”
Dobson and Spencer, along with Steven Downie, a fluid dynamics specialist on Arup’s technology and research team, and researchers at the National Oceanography Center set out to change that.
They developed a new digital tool to communicate the impact of sea level rise on flood risk. Developed as a web-based portal, the Sea Level Rise Tool can be used to understand the economic impact of tens of thousands of potential sea level rise scenarios and mitigation measures. It is the first time that the full scope of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projections of sea level rise can be seen interactively.
The team was supported by the Environment Agency, who acted as a stakeholder and provided key data to facilitate a Hull-based case study.
“I’ve worked in flood risk management for over 20 years trying to help make good decisions,” says Dobson. “It’s often quite static – lots of modelling, lots of economics, presented in a static report with conclusions at the end. We wanted to see what else is possible and bring it to life. Cambridge University managed to unlock the complex modeling that made this possible for us.”