Hydrology in the 21st century: Challenges in science, to policy and practice

10 - 11 June 2024 09:00 - 17:00 The Royal Society Watch online
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Science+ meeting organised by Professor Hayley Fowler, Dr Gemma Coxon and Dr Christopher White

Increasing demands on the hydrological community in the 21st century require a focus beyond hydrological science, towards policy and practice. This rethinking of approach towards more complex, transdisciplinary solutions responds to the climate and biodiversity crises. This discussion meeting will highlight new science and, together with industry and policy-makers, suggest new ways forward for the scientific discipline.

Poster session

There will be a poster session on Monday 10 June.

Programme

The programme and speakers' biographies are available below.

Attending this event

This event is intended for researchers in relevant fields.

  • Free to attend.
  • Both in-person and online attendance available. Advance registration is essential. Please follow the link to register.
  • Lunch is available on both days of the meeting for an optional £25 per day. There are plenty of places to eat nearby if you would prefer to purchase food offsite. Participants are welcome to bring their own lunch to the meeting.

Enquiries: contact the Scientific Programmes team

Image credit: iStock @iiievgeniy

Organisers

  • Hayley Fowler

    Professor Hayley Fowler, Newcastle University, UK

    Hayley J Fowler is Professor of Climate Change Impacts in the School of Engineering at Newcastle University. Her research focuses on improved physical understanding of changing weather extremes and better projections for climate adaptation. She won the EGU’s Sergey Soloviev Medal in 2024, is an AGU Fellow and Royal Society Wolfson Research Fellow (2014-19). She is Chief Editor of Frontiers in Interdisciplinary Climate Studies and was Contributing Author to the IPCC WGI AR6. From 2021-2023, she was President of the British Hydrological Society, bridging between hydrological, meteorological and climate communities with her role on the Met Office Hadley Centre Climate Programme Science Review Group. She advises UK government on the Strategic Advisory Board for the RESAS Division in Scotland and on the DESNZ Science Expert Group. She is passionate about engagement, leads several co-created projects with industry, and regularly delivers lectures and school events to engage the public on the climate crisis.

  • Gemma Coxon

    Dr Gemma Coxon, University of Bristol, UK

    Dr Gemma Coxon is a senior lecturer at the University of Bristol and a UKRI Future Leaders Fellow. Her research focuses on understanding and predicting floods and droughts in changing environments through the simulation of water systems from local to continental scales. Gemma and her team work closely with communities, water companies, and regulatory bodies across the UK, and are currently involved in projects on (1) delivering a £38M investment in UK flood and drought research infrastructure (2) informing the development of new water supply infrastructure and (3) projecting floods and droughts across the UK. Gemma is an elected ordinary committee member for the British Hydrological Society and currently leads the BHS Events Committee.

  • Chris White

    Dr Chris White, University of Strathclyde, UK

    Dr Chris White is the Head of the Centre for Water, Environment, Sustainability and Public Health at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. As a Reader (Associate Professor), he leads the Engineering for Extremes research group that focuses on improving the understanding of extreme weather events, hydro-meteorological hazards such as floods and droughts, and water resource management. His research interests are cross-disciplinary, including the emerging fields of multi-hazard risks, compound events, cross-sectoral cascading physical and societal impacts cascading impacts, impact-based forecasting, the application of climate services for improved decision-making and climate resilience, and the prediction and application of predictions on extended-range subseasonal-to-seasonal (S2S) and climatic timescales. He leads several projects including the multi-hazard interactions and cascading impacts work package of the MEDiate (‘Multi-hazard and risk-informed system for enhanced local and regional disaster risk management’) project, funded by the Horizon Europe programme. He also co-leads the applications sub-project of the World Meteorological Organization’s WWRP/WCRP S2S Prediction Project. 

Schedule

Chair

Duncan Faulkner

Duncan Faulkner, JBA Consulting and British Hydrological Society, UK

08:55-09:00 Introduction by the Royal Society
09:00-09:10 Welcome

A short welcome to outline the aims of the meeting and a short history of the British Hydrological Society by its former President and lead organiser, Professor Hayley Fowler.

Professor Hayley Fowler, Newcastle University, UK

Professor Hayley Fowler, Newcastle University, UK

09:10-09:35 Rapidly intensifying extreme weather events in a warming world: Implications for hydrological science, practice and policy

The intensification of extreme precipitation in a warming climate has been shown in observations and climate models to follow approximately theoretical Clausius-Clapeyron scaling. However, larger changes have been indicated in events of short-duration which frequently trigger flash floods or landslides, causing loss of life. At the same time heatwaves and associated droughts and water shortages are increasing in frequency. Together these provide cascading impacts on water quality, agricultural production and other societal necessities. Continental-scale convection-permitting climate models (CPCMs) and new observational datasets provide the state-of-the-art in understanding future changes to extreme weather (rainfall, wind, hail, lightning) and their compounding effects with global warming. But climate models are underestimating the rate of change of warming in the real world, and the increase in associated extreme weather events due to their poor representation of dynamical circulation changes and feedbacks from land, ocean and ice dynamics. It will be argued that a shift in focus is needed from our reliance on climate models towards embedding different lines of evidence in an transdisciplinary storylines approach. Ultimately we must work together across disciplines to address these rapid changes and co-create actionable information that can be quickly embedded into policy and practice, using this approach to improve both early warning systems and projections of extreme weather events for climate adaptation.

Professor Hayley Fowler, Newcastle University, UK

Professor Hayley Fowler, Newcastle University, UK

09:35-10:00 Hydrological monitoring in the XXI century: the right data for the right purpose

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) is the UN agency for Weather, Climate and Water. The WMO support its Members with services such as warning, forecast and outlook systems, based on trusted observing and information systems. Noting that the world population is highly impacted by water, and that water is highly impacted by climate, it is critical to provide decision makers with an effective, sustainable hydrological monitoring system at all space and time scales. This is even more important that the hydrological cycle complexity is still not well modelled.

The current monitoring approaches having demonstrated their limits, the WMO, with partners, is developing innovative approaches for measuring the hydrological cycle components, and for making sure this monitoring is well understood, and used, by stakeholders. This includes a better use of satellite products, but as well low-cost technologies, Internet of Things, citizen observations, etc. The WMO’s role is to facilitate the uptake of the most promising solutions, and to make sure players can trust the new tools through standardization and capacity building.

Additionally, it is of importance to see hydrological monitoring as a part of a whole in the spirit of the Earth System Approach, again at all space and time scales, considering the interaction among the major global cycles of hydrology, carbon, and energy. This is key to better understand climate evolution and its impact on flood, drought, and water management.

Dr Dominique Berod, World Meteorological Organisation, Switzerland

Dr Dominique Berod, World Meteorological Organisation, Switzerland

10:00-10:30 Discussion
10:30-11:00 Break

Chair

Scott McGrane

Dr Scott McGrane, University of Strathclyde, UK

11:00-11:30 Space: the final hydrological frontier

River discharge is one of the most important hydrological variables to measure, but also one of the most difficult. The twin pressures of climate change and growing populations are exacerbating the need for accurate and timely measurements. Most important amongst these are the extremes of high and low flows associated with the rollercoaster of flood and drought that now seem to dominate our weather patterns. 

Globally however, hydrometric monitoring networks are often inadequate or in decline. Even where effective networks exist, financial, technical and operational challenges can make obtaining measurements difficult. 

This presentation explores these challenges and highlights how new and emerging satellite remote sensing technologies have the potential to bring major benefits to river flow and flood observations globally, even for the relatively small rivers of the UK. 

It is highly likely that Nick will talk about drones as well. He usually does. 

Nick Everard, UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, UK

Nick Everard, UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, UK

11:30-12:00 Social structures and technology synergistic role in the transformation of Environmental Sensing

Sharable digital files can readily become physical objects (through 3D printing); low-cost sensor technologies are ever more accurate and less expensive; wireless communication has become ubiquitous and capable; and there is a growing community of researchers who seek to apply these capacities to advance scientific observations. Synergistically, many undergraduates are coming to college to take part in making the world more resilient to climate change and reversing degraded ecologies. Yet stubborn barriers persist. The Openly Published Environmental Sensing Lab (OPEnS, founded in 2016) is a jointly USDA and NSF-EAR/IF funded initiative where 30-40 undergraduate engineering students help researchers expand capabilities of instrumentation. Mentoring and guidance is intensive: Weekly groups of 2-5 students meet with one member of the 4-member lab leadership team for in-depth check-ins. From this accountable environment grew best practices and collaborative problem solving. Professor Selker will present OPEnS projects span challenges presented by the USA, Africa, and Europe. OPEnS provides a prototyping for undergraduate engineering based on collaboration spanning agricultural, ecological, and geoscience researchers to create transformational advances in instrumentation. Most of the undergraduate students in the lab go on to be authors (many first authors) on scientific presentations, papers, and even undergraduate-led patent applications. While aiming to address environmental sensing needs, the greatest impacts of OPEnS has been on student experience. How can essential instrumentation development bring a broader community of students to our work? Professor Selker invites global collaboration to grow the tools of environmental observation and effective hands-on education.  

 
John Selker, Oregon State University, USA

John Selker, Oregon State University, USA

12:00-12:30 Discussion
12:30-13:30 Lunch

Chair

Chris White

Dr Chris White, University of Strathclyde, UK

13:30-14:00 Connecting communities: going beyond open hydrology for social and environmental resilience

Dr Hall proposed the 'Open Hydrology Principles and Practical Guide' to inform and empower interdisciplinary water researchers to improve their work’s accessibility and usability for fellow professionals and stakeholders. Their framework acknowledges the evolving nature of open science, and they discuss the benefits of open science, common challenges, and strategies to overcome them within hydrology. While ensuring the accessibility of hydrology research through open principles is critical to addressing environmental justice challenges, this is only the first step. Dr Hall advocates for going beyond hydrology and related disciplinary methods and ways of knowing by implementing a transdisciplinary approach that integrates diverse perspectives to effectively tackle complex challenges. Collaborating with communities to integrate the surrounding environment, historical contexts, and stakeholder values is necessary to develop equitable sustainability and resilience solutions. Through bridging professional and cultural perspectives and fostering partnerships, we can ensure inclusive solutions tailored to local and global contexts. 

Dr Caitlyn Hall, University of Arizona, USA

Dr Caitlyn Hall, University of Arizona, USA

14:00-14:30 40 years of only looking, not touching, each others models: are we ready for intimate collaboration?

Hydrology is like bikes in the Netherlands: there are more hydrological models then there are hydrologists. And like bikes in the Netherlands, there is a good reason for this. In this overview of 40 years of modelling in hydrology, Doctor Hut will explore why every hydrologists has their own hydrological model and why this is both a good and bad thing for the science of hydrology. Because the analogy breaks down: while any Dutch person can ride any bike, hydrologist hardly use each other’s models. Doctor Hut will look at past efforts to help hydrologist collaborate and at ongoing developments intended to help hydrologist of the future to work more seamlessly together. 

Dr Ir Rolf Hut, Delft University of Technology, Netherlands

Dr Ir Rolf Hut, Delft University of Technology, Netherlands

14:30-15:00 Discussion
15:00-15:30 Break
15:30-16:00 Hydrology in a changing global south: review of transdisciplinarity and hydrological methods

Most countries in the global south have experienced high population growth and increasing depletion of water resources both in quantities and quality over the past 40 years. Industrialisation  and urbanisation are straining water resources. Consecutive droughts and frequent alternation between floods and droughts are becoming common. The issues of water-related risks are being felt by many as countries are prone to climatic extremes. On the positive side, the number of trained water professionals has increased over the last four decades. These professionals are researching and proposing solutions using hydrological methods and models that are developed for the global north. However, the challenges faced by global south countries are becoming complex due to among others, weak coping mechanisms to adapt to climatic shocks, poor understanding of their hydrological system to provide sound water management solutions, limited hydrologic modelling capabilities and not having models that cater for their local conditions, limited financial capacity, and most of all, unavailability of data and monitoring mechanisms. This poses a multi-faceted problem that needs to integrate hydrological, environmental, and socio-economic perspectives. This needs out-of-the-box thinking and new and innovative solutions that are contextualised and locally generated.  Considering the local community's specific economic and social realities, looking at a hydrology problem from different disciplines' perspectives by applying the transdisciplinarity concept is essential to develop technically and socially sound solutions to water resource challenges. The solutions are more relevant for water policymakers with an integrated approach. 

Dr Meron Teferi Taye, International Water Management Institute, Ethiopia

Dr Meron Teferi Taye, International Water Management Institute, Ethiopia

16:00-16:30 The need for transdisciplinary modelling approaches, co-development and dialogue to address climate resilience in water management and planning

Research to provide actionable information on future climate and hydrology risks and support decision-making in water resources has evolved steadily over the last 25 years; and along with it, the community of practice and awareness of stakeholders has also grown. The resulting breadth of modelling and methodological variations for various elements of this analytical cascade (from Earth System Modelling and scenario selection, through downscaling and hydrological modelling) has highlighted, for better or worse, the impact of technical and scientific choices on water security projection outcomes, leading to an erosion of stakeholder confidence in climate impact research and practice. A reassessment of the climate risk assessment practice in some sectors is underway, questioning the value of derived granular information in certain decision-making contexts. Grappling with the limitations of current practice requires strengthening the communication and co-development process between researchers and stakeholders at all levels of this cascade, facilitating dialogue such that all involved share realistic expectations regarding models and methods and the extent to which they are fit for purpose. This presentation discusses the evolution of climate impact assessment community practices, and highlights current examples of efforts by US federal water agency planners to collaborate with climate and hydrology researchers, ideally to foster a comprehensive, shared understanding of the multi-disciplinary approach uncertainties, and to co-develop more reliable methods for use in water security planning.

Professor Andrew W Wood, Colorado School of Mines, USA

Professor Andrew W Wood, Colorado School of Mines, USA

16:30-17:00 Discussion
17:00-18:30 Poster session

Chair

Hayley Fowler

Professor Hayley Fowler, Newcastle University, UK

09:00-09:10 Welcome

Professor Louise Heathwaite will provide an introduction to the second day.

Professor Louise Heathwaite CBE FRS, Lancaster University, UK

Professor Louise Heathwaite CBE FRS, Lancaster University, UK

09:10-09:40 Challenges and opportunities of new AI/ML approaches in hydrology

Over the last four decades, hydrological science has made notable strides, yet the prediction of hydrological extremes, adaptation to climate change, and effective water resource management continue to pose significant challenges. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) technologies have emerged as powerful tools with the potential to address these issues, though they also introduce new challenges.

In her talk, Professor Slater will delve into how AI/ML innovations are reshaping hydro-meteorological modelling, forecasting, and analysis. She will highlight examples that demonstrate ML's strengths, such as its capacity to integrate extensive datasets from varied sources and improve the prediction of extremes, including in ungauged basins. Professor Slater will explore various approaches to model interpretability, where ML can offer novel insights into the complex dynamics driving hydrological changes. Alongside these areas of success, she will also discuss various challenges related to ML in hydrology such as model biases, physical consistency, and uncertainty quantification.

The presentation will conclude with a forward-looking perspective on the potential of AI/ML to overcome these barriers and the opportunity to drive future advances. This includes the ability to improve early warning systems, flood projections, and water resources management in a rapidly changing world.

Professor Louise Slater, University of Oxford, UK

Professor Louise Slater, University of Oxford, UK

09:40-10:10 Improving early warning and forecasting systems

The role of providing timely and actionable early warning services have kept evolving since Admiral FitzRoy developed the first Gale Warning service in the wake of the Royal Charter Storm, and when Group Captain Stagg provided critical and trusted meteorological advice to Eisenhower ahead of D-Day. Post-war developments of Numerical Weather Prediction (NWP) models, weather satellites and enhanced international cooperation established the basis of modern early warning systems. Increasing in accuracy at approximately one day lead time per decade has resulted in improvements in early warning services. The concept of the weather and climate as chaotic systems has had a profound impact on the way in which forecasting has evolved over recent decades. No longer do we produce a single, deterministic forecast, but instead we perform an ensemble of forecasts that seek to capture the plausible range of future states. Moreover, the role of the human in the forecasting and warning process is at an inflection point. We are in the midst of unprecedented change; driven by the relentless exponential growth in data and being faced with imperfect diagnosis of risk and impact. The opportunities to improve our services is at a turning point, and yet, if our journey to advancing next generation forecasting systems does not find its way into the hands of the users in a meaningful way then all this investment will have been for nothing. Let’s avoid that at all costs and ensure we support transdisciplinary thinking and co-creation and co-design environments for the benefit of all society. 

Professor Paul Davies, Met Office and Newcastle University, UK

Professor Paul Davies, Met Office and Newcastle University, UK

10:10-10:40 Discussion
10:40-11:10 Break
11:10-11:30 Adapting water resource systems to a changing future: from hydrology to risks of water shortages

The risks of water shortages in Britain are still not fully understood, despite significant strides in quantification of the climatology and hydrology. There have also been significant developments in water resource system modelling capabilities at regional and national scales, which are providing the basis for improved strategic planning of water resources. This talk will describe these recent developments and highlight topics for improvement in the future, including the changing climatology of prolonged and widespread droughts; the hydrology of low flows and groundwater levels, especially in highly managed systems; interdependence with water quality and aquatic ecology; the performance of water resource systems; and the actual behaviour of the full range of water abstractors. It will set out the scientific and practical (ie data sharing, model coupling) issues that need to be addressed if there is to be improved understanding of the risks of water shortages.

Professor Jim Hall FREng, University of Oxford, UK

Professor Jim Hall FREng, University of Oxford, UK

11:30-12:30 Panel discussion: managing hydrological extremes in a changing climate
Murray Dale, JBA Consulting, UK

Murray Dale, JBA Consulting, UK

Professor Jim Hall FREng, University of Oxford, UK

Professor Jim Hall FREng, University of Oxford, UK

Mr Neil Gunn, Willis Towers Watson, UK

Mr Neil Gunn, Willis Towers Watson, UK

Professor Paul Davies, Met Office and Newcastle University, UK

Professor Paul Davies, Met Office and Newcastle University, UK

Dr Harriet Orr, Environment Agency, UK

Dr Harriet Orr, Environment Agency, UK

Virginia Murray, UK Health Security Agency, UK

Virginia Murray, UK Health Security Agency, UK

12:30-13:30 Lunch

Chair

Gemma Coxon

Dr Gemma Coxon, University of Bristol, UK

13:30-14:00 Preparing for our new (and current) extremes needs new approaches

While it may be easy to simulate the rise and fall of a flood hydrograph, it is surprisingly challenging to model the magnitude-frequency relationships of peak flow rates, flood volumes and levels under historic or current conditions, particularly over a range of spatial and temporal scales within a single catchment. Under climate change, these challenges only get harder. Dealing with a non-stationary hydroclimate imposes new standards of evidence for the defensibility of our risk-based hazard modelling. We need to develop new methods to characterise flood behaviour that are appropriately informed by both historical observations and projected outputs from climate models. For example, we have historically done a poor job of characterising the propagation of uncertainty through the rainfall-hydrology-hydraulics modelling chain, and we need to ensure that industry has access to modelling tools that take some pragmatic account of the different sources of aleatory and epistemic uncertainty that confound their parameterisation, application, and interpretation. To be useful, climate model projections need to be provided in a processed form at spatial and temporal scales relevant to the rainfall extremes of interest, and they need to be based on sufficient ensembles to characterise the variability and indicative uncertainty of the projections. Further, our treatment and understanding of risk needs updating to suit changing engineering design and planning requirements. We need to overhaul our existing approach to reporting flood risk in terms of annualised probabilities or return-periods. Decisions will increasingly need to move to an adaptive risk management framework, where attention is given to the changing likelihood of failure over given planning periods. We might argue about the efficacy of our current flood estimation practices, but global warming represents a Grand Challenge that is rapidly undermining our ability to both understand and estimate flood risks. 

Professor Rory Nathan, University of Melbourne, Australia

Professor Rory Nathan, University of Melbourne, Australia

14:00-14:30 Including the human perspective through risk communication and decision making

Building resilience against water driven extremes requires effective risk-based decision making. As hydrologists we support this by producing near and long-term assessments of risk that carefully consider the uncertainty in our data, models and forecasts. Yet to those using the output, flood risk is not just the mathematical calculation of probability x impact but life altering amounts of water rushing through homes, destroying farmland and crippling infrastructure, often followed by many months of recovery afterwards. The way people respond to flood risk information is shaped by their awareness of exposure, the manner in which information is communicated, its source, and whether individuals possesses the knowledge and capacity to act upon it. Striking a balance that acknowledges uncertainty, whilst communicating actionable information to responsible organisations and individuals is essential. 

The devastating floods across Europe in 2021 underscored the need for improved risk communication. Lives were lost, not solely due to the severity of the event, but because of a failure to adequately prepare and respond. Despite the availability of flood forecasts, significant gaps in communicating risk were identified. It’s a reflection that has been made time and time again after major events. 

Improving hydrological models and data is only valuable if that knowledge can be used by those who need it. Innovative, inter-disciplinary approaches to improve risk communication and meet the multiple needs of different users are urgently needed. This presentation will explore this Grand Challenge with a particular focus on communicating flood forecasts and warnings.

Dr Linda Speight, University of Oxford, UK

Dr Linda Speight, University of Oxford, UK

14:30-15:00 Discussion
15:00-15:30 Break
15:30-16:00 Connecting hydrological science through to adaptation policy and practice

The UK has a wealth of understanding on both hydrological observations and processes. However, the uncertainty inherent in hydrological modelling can serve as a barrier to effective decision-making. This uncertainty can arise from, for example, the quality, resolution, or availability of the underlying hydrological information, modelling assumptions or the relevance of method to the decision being taken. 

Once future scenarios are factored in to consider the changing hazard as a result of climate change, as well as the changing exposure and vulnerability of people and assets, this uncertainty can become seemingly insurmountable. But as the observed impacts of a changing climate have increased, so too has the need to make timely and robust decisions using readily available data.

This presentation will set out the primary sources of uncertainty which can disrupt decision-making, before exploring different approaches to decision-making which can either exacerbate or minimise uncertainty in both climate and hydrological information. It will also discuss the information requirements for different decision types, highlighting where improved hydrological information can provide better outcomes. Finally, it will set out how different approaches to risk assessment framing can be used to maximise the use of existing information, for example in supporting economic assessments and options appraisals.

Katy Peat, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, UK

Katy Peat, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, UK

16:00-16:15 Discussion
16:15-17:00 Panel discussion/Overview (future directions)
Professor Rory Nathan, University of Melbourne, Australia

Professor Rory Nathan, University of Melbourne, Australia

Dr Caitlyn Hall, University of Arizona, USA

Dr Caitlyn Hall, University of Arizona, USA

Professor Hayley Fowler, Newcastle University, UK

Professor Hayley Fowler, Newcastle University, UK

Dr Meron Teferi Taye, International Water Management Institute, Ethiopia

Dr Meron Teferi Taye, International Water Management Institute, Ethiopia

Dr Linda Speight, University of Oxford, UK

Dr Linda Speight, University of Oxford, UK

Katy Peat, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, UK

Katy Peat, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, UK