Towards warning systems for urban flooding

The European project MUFFIN (Multi-Scale Flood Forecasting) aimed to develop innovative systems and solutions for predicting and managing flooding in urban environments. This included comparing and evaluating observation and forecasting systems ranging from local to national scales. The new PLUPP project is developing products and tools for the Nordic countries.

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More and more people are moving to the larger urban areas, and two thirds of the global population are expected to live in cities by the year 2050. When large areas are covered with asphalt and concrete there is a greater risk of flooding from heavy rain and downpours, not only in the city centres but also in the suburbs and fringe areas. Changes in the climate will also lead to even more extreme weather. Therefore long-term projects are being carried out to make cities more climate-tolerant, for example with more planted areas and dams.

Early warnings are necessary

At the same time there is a need for short-term information from systems that can predict and warn about flood risks (Early Warning Systems). The MUFFIN project, coordinated by SMHI, also had participants from other institutes and universities in Sweden, Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands, who together have investigated whether observations and models on a national (or even larger) scale could create added value for local warning systems.

"The earlier we can predict the risk of flooding, the better possibilities there are for the community to reduce the negative effects," says Jonas Olsson, scientific leader for hydrology at SMHI.

During the period 2016-2019 the MUFFIN researchers have carried out detailed rain observations to find out how much water there is in the ground and pipe networks etc. while at the same time looking at the forecasts for predicted precipitation. The researchers then moved on to models that translate the precipitation to waterflow, both on the surface and in the ground. This enables systems to be developed that can show when the capacities are exceeded, bringing a risk of flooding.

Focusing on the end user

"It’s not enough that the researchers know about this. We have also looked at ways to communicate these results in an easily accessible and meaningful way to those that need the information, such as water and wastewater organisations and the emergency services," says Jonas Olsson.

We are increasing knowledge and understanding, finding the limitations of the different systems and models and tying them into the expectations and requirements of the end users. For this reason the researchers and experts from the different parts of the project have worked together right from the start, often in the form of workshops. Examples include meteorology, hydrology, social sciences, IT, web development, mathematics, statistic and geographical information systems.

Continuing with PLUPP

The MUFFIN project has been successful in that it has not only created a better understanding, illustrated by a large number of scientific articles, but has also led to better cooperation on many levels.

One example here in Sweden is that the project is continuing as a research project called PLUPP (Pluvial Flooding Support), where the tools and products from the MUFFIN project will be used and developed further.

"In the PLUPP project we are developing the methods and tools for describing downpours and their consequences on both the national and the Nordic scales," says Jonas Olsson.