Combining Hydrological Modelling and Visual Analytics to support flood alleviation planning and management

Researchers from the Schools of Natural Sciences (SNS) and Computer Science and Electronic Engineering (CSEE) at Bangor University, in collaboration with Ymgynghoriaeth Gwynedd Consultancy (YGC), have developed a new decision support toolkit, Land Use Change SWAT+ Toolkit (LUCST), to enhance the planning and management of flood alleviation schemes in Gwynedd county.

Land Use Land Cover (LULC) change is widely recognised as one of the most important factors impacting river basin hydrology. Gwynedd county has experienced multiple occurrences of high flood events, and consequent economic damage, in the recent past. However, past approaches to flood alleviation have not fully accounted for the complexity of the hydrological processes that result from the interaction between climate and land use in catchments.  Therefore, LUCST as a decision support tool offers a substantial improvement in flood risk assessment and is likely to have significant impact in the local community, and beyond.

Fig. 1 the visual analytics toolkit developed by Alex, with the help of Peter

Alex Rigby, who is a KESS 2 funded MSc by Research student in Environmental Sciences, has developed LUCST with the assistance of Dr Peter Butcher (Research Officer in CSEE). LUCST combines Visual Analytics with a hydrological model called Soil and Water assessment Tool (SWAT+) to streamline the assessment of LULC change on flooding in river catchments. SWAT+ has been used previously for hydrological impact assessment of LULC change.  However, its usage is often cumbersome and non-intutive, which limits its usability as a decision support tool for engineering teams, regulatory agencies and local authorities.

LUCST solves this problem by allowing end users to specify, through a Graphical User Interface (GUI), various types of land use changes and interventions, at multiple locations within their study catchment. These changes are then re-analysed in SWAT+ and the model outputs can be interactively explored using visualisation techniques to quantify the hydrological impacts of these LULC change scenarios. More importantly, the toolkit does not require the end user to have a detailed operational knowledge of the SWAT+ hydrological model.

LUCST has been trialled with experts from the Gwynedd County Council, and is now an integral part of their workflow for the development of future flood alleviation schemes as well as other infrastructure projects. In addition, the toolkit it currently under consideration for deployment by the Snowdonia National Park Authority.

Alex said about his work “It has been a pleasure and an amazing experience working in collaboration with the CSEE, in particular Peter, whose expertise in JavaScript and web technologies (not to mention his patience with my 1000’s of questions) helped make this project possible. Working with both the SNS and CSEE, I have developed skills I had only dreamed of and having the opportunity to apply those skills in an impactful way has been great bonus to my time at Bangor University.”

Dr Sopan Patil from SNS, who supervised Alex’s work, said “understanding how land use, and changes to it, affect the hydrological processes in river basins is critical to achieve flood alleviation. LUCST, as a decision support tool, offers a significant improvement in the ease with which the flood risk arising from different land use scenarios can be tested.  Our collaboration with the visualisation experts in CSEE has been crucial in ensuring that this toolkit is intuitive and user-friendly”.

Dr Panagiotis (Panos) Ritsos from CSEE, who co-supervised Alex, said “in CSEE, we relish the opportunity to use our expertise in designing and building visual analytics interfaces for such impactful use cases. We hope that this tool, and more to come in the future, will improve the quality of life of our community. On the side, our work often seems obscure to audiences from other disciplines, so we never pass the chance to demonstrate what can be done!”.

Alex’s research is funded by YGC and Knowledge Economy Skills Scholarships (KESS 2), a pan-Wales higher level skills initiative led by Bangor University on behalf of the HE sector in Wales. It is part funded by the Welsh Government’s European Social Fund (ESF) convergence programme for West Wales and the Valleys.