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Case study: Professor Paul Bates

International Exchange

University of Bristol

Improved large-scale river-floodplain hydrologic modelling in a tropical wetland

Professor Paul Bates’ research focuses on improving how we model water flow in natural channels, and in particular looks at shallow water hydrodynamics in river floodplains. A novel feature of his work at Bristol University is the use of models constructed using remotely sensed data from airborne and satellite platforms. Collaborating with Professor Walter Collischonn, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, the two research teams worked together to explore large scale hydrodynamic modelling in tropical regions using remotely sensed datasets.

“I had met Walter at a number of meetings over the last few years and read many papers by him and his group.  I was really impressed by his work, and it was clear to me that our research teams had lots in common.  A Royal Society International Exchange programme provided an ideal vehicle to get our teams working together through exchange visits and joint fieldwork.

A member of Walter's team visited Bristol for two months to work on modelling of the Pantanal wetlands, and my PhD student Calum Baugh made several trips to Brazil to visit Walter's group and undertake fieldwork in the central Amazon basin. 

We have already published one paper on the Pantanal study, and further papers relating to our recent Amazon fieldwork will follow shortly.  In the Pantanal study we were able to demonstrate the importance of evaporation to the atmosphere and infiltration to groundwater in controlling the flooding dynamics of this globally important wetland.  During the Amazon fieldwork we travelled deep into the floodplain along networks of small channels to collect data which shows the key role these features play in controlling how river water spreads across the vast Amazon floodplain during the wet season.  Results such as these are really starting to increase our understanding of how floodplains operate, how they store water and attenuate flood waves along river systems, and the role they play in the wider regional water cycle.

The scheme has brought our two research groups much closer together. Our PhD students and postdocs are now collaborating on new projects that we never envisaged in our original proposal and which never would have happened without the conversations that take place over extended study visits.  This for me is the most pleasing aspect.”

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