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Award detailsNear Real-Time Multiscale Hybrid Surface Water Flooding Risk Forecasting. Engineering PhD studentship (NERC GW4+ DTP funded) Ref: 4028

College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences

About the Project

Location: Streatham Campus, University of Exeter, Exeter, Devon.

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP). The GW4+ DTP consists of the Great Western Four alliance of the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus five Research Organisation partners: British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory. The partnership aims to provide a broad training in earth and environmental sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science. For further details about the programme please see

Project Background:

Flood impacts over the past two decades have affected 2.3bn people resulting in an estimated total damage cost of £500bn. The Committee on Climate Change estimates that total expected annual damages from flooding and coastal change (for the whole UK, excluding groundwater) for the present day as £1.1bn, which could increase to £1.7bn and £2.8bn by the 2080s under 2°C and 4°C climate change projections, respectively, assuming no population growth and continuing adaptation at current levels.

To mitigate the impact of flooding, various measures have been proposed to enhance the preparedness and protection of societies against flooding. Most of these measures rely on flood forecasting to deploy resources and implement actions at the right locations and times. The Grid-to-Grid (G2G) model has been adopted operationally for countrywide fluvial and pluvial flood forecasting across Britain. Surface water flooding risk is evaluated based on matching the G2G modelled surface runoff with a pre-simulated Impact Library.

Project Aims and Methods:

The project aims to develop a hybrid modelling approach, coupling with environmental observations and weather forecasting, to nowcast and forecast flooding and its impact across multiple scales (national, regional, catchment-wide, and local community) to support decision-making for different stakeholders.

The aim of the project is to dynamically link the national-scale Grid-to-Grid hydrological model (typically applied at a 1km resolution) with the detailed urban flood model (with 10m or finer spatial resolution) in highly urbanised areas to better simulate the influences of urban features (e.g. drainage network, buildings) on surface water propagation. Further, the flood modelling results will be combined with socio-economic datasets to forecast flood risk - to human safety, critical infrastructure and services, properties and communities - to develop prototype tools for alerting the public that are at high risk and support emergency response actions to mitigate the hazard impact. The candidate will be able to discuss with the supervisors how to shape the final research direction of the project and co-design the hybrid modelling framework for real-time applications.

Further interactions will be arranged with the Natural Hazards Partnership (NHP), including the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on assessing impacts and the Flood Forecasting Centre (FFC) on operational challenges.

Candidate Requirements:

The candidate must have a good fundamental understanding of mathematical modelling, hydrology and hydraulics. Strong knowledge and skills in computer science, including programming, parallel and cloud computing, and GIS spatial analysis are also desirable. The candidate should be capable of learning new skills, interacting and collaborating effectively with diverse partners.

Collaborative Partner:

The Grid-to-Grid model is developed by the UKCEH co-supervisors through whom the candidate will receive insight knowledge and advice in hydrological modelling. UKCEH is also a key member of the Natural Hazards Partnership (NHP) and has been leading the development of its Surface Water Flooding Hazard Impact Model (SWF HIM) along with HSE for operational use by the FFC. The candidate will engage with the NHP to communicate research progress of practical relevance. It is anticipated that the candidate will spend short visits (subject to travel and office restrictions) up to a few weeks per year working at UKCEH (Wallingford) to co-design the model components for multi-scale analyses.


University of Exeter is offering a wide range of transferable skills and personal development courses to help students and researchers in building academic research capacity, as well as providing the guidance to work effectively with non-academic partners. UKCEH hosts over 150 postgraduate researchers and offers a range of bespoke training and support activities. The student will have opportunities to attend international conferences or workshops, to visit the University’s strategic partners (e.g. TUM in Germany, Tsinghua University in China) and the CWS’s overseas industrial partners (e.g. KWR in The Netherlands, DHI in Denmark), or to participate in international projects to gain experience and knowledge via these activities.

Funding Notes

For eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprises:

An stipend for 3.5 years (currently £15,285 p.a. for 2020-21) in line with UK Research and Innovation rates
Payment of university tuition fees;
A research budget of £11,000 for an international conference, lab, field and research expenses;
A training budget of £3,250 for specialist training courses and expenses.
Up to £750 for travel and accommodation for compulsory cohort events.


[1] Cabinet Office (2016) National Flood Resilience Review;

[2] Chen et al. (2012) Multi-layered coarse grid modelling in 2D urban flood simulations. Journal of Hydrology, 470–471, 1-11.

[3] Chen et al. (2016) From hazard to impact: flood damage assessment tools for mega cities, Natural Hazards, 82(2), 857-890.

[4] Chen et al. (2016) Modelling the discharge via displacement of manhole covers during extreme flood events with dual drainage simulations. Urban Water Journal, 13(8), 830-840.

[5] Cole et al. (2016) Real-time forecasts of flood hazard and impact: some UK experiences [in special issue: 3rd European Conference on Flood Risk Management (FLOODrisk 2016)] E3S Web of Conferences, 7, 18015. 11pp.

[6] Cole &d Moore (2008) Distributed hydrological modelling using weather radar in gauged and ungauged basins. In: International Symposium on Weather Radar and Hydrology, Grenoble, 10-12 March 2008.

[7] Cole et al. (2010) The Grid-to-Grid Model for nationwide flood forecasting and its use of weather radar. In: Workshop on Polarimetric weather radar for quantitative precipitation estimation, University of Bristol, 28 July 2010.

[8] Flack et al. (2019) Recommendations for improving integration in national end-to-end flood forecasting systems: an overview of the FFIR (Flooding From Intense Rainfall) Programme. Water, 11, 725.

[9] Guidolin et al. (2016) A weighted cellular automata 2D inundation model for rapid flood analysis. Environ. Modell. & Soft., 84, 378–394.[10] Risk of flooding from surface water - understand and using the map

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