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Shaping a safer future for coastal communities

Understanding how mud and silt affects the flow of water can change and save lives.

Exceptional rainfall in June 2007 led to widespread flood damage in the UK. Hull particularly suffered – with 8,600 houses and more than 1,300 businesses flooded. The community, public and business sector all sustained significant financial losses. One person lost their life.

After the event, the University of Hull research into the flooding looked at how the floods developed so quickly and why the structures designed to prevent flooding in the region failed. Our independent review board report outlined proposals on how to improve water management for future flooding events.

Hull City Council adopted all our recommendations. Two days after the report's publication, Yorkshire Water promised a £16-million investment to improve Hull's pumping stations.

The report also had an impact on a national scale. The board fed directly into the subsequent Pitt Review, commissioned to learn lessons from across the UK of the summer 2007 floods.

The research team influenced legislation via evidence to a House of Commons select committee on flooding. As a result of this input, the IRB recommendations can be traced into the Flood and Water Management Act (2010) and later, government initiatives relating to flood forecasting and surface water management.

Fast forward ten years and we’re continuing to make an impact on flood research across the globe.

Recent changes in the patterns of tropical storms are threatening the future of the Mekong River delta in Vietnam. This is one of the world’s great deltas. It is home to more than 18 million people and the rice that is grown on its fertile land underpins food security across South-East Asia.

Working with colleagues from the UK, US and Finland, our recent research shows that fewer tropical storms have been hitting the Mekong catchment in recent years. This in turn results in much less mud and sand reaching the delta - and could have a dramatic effect on the delta’s sustainability in the medium and longer term due to the adverse impacts on flooding and reduced agricultural productivity.

Our results published in Nature showed just how crucial tropical storms are in maintaining the Mekong delta. Only around 5% of the catchment area’s total annual rainfall is sourced from tropical storms, but because this heavy and sudden rainfall is so effective at washing mud and sand into the river, the storms are responsible for more than 30% of the sediment that reaches the delta.

Our study is the first to show the significant role tropical storms can have in the delivery of sediment to large river deltas. This has implications for a range of other major rivers, such as the Ganges in Bangladesh, the Yangtze in China, and the Mississippi in the US. All of these have catchments that are regularly struck by tropical storms.

Some 500 Million people live and work in the world’s major river deltas – and as this work shows we can’t evaluate their future vulnerability to sea-level rise without also considering changes the climate and the management of river basins that feed the deltas.

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"These predictions are helping us understand the evolution of flood risk across the delta through to the impact this will have for wider issues such as food security." Professor Dan Parsons - Director, Energy and Environment Institute at the University of Hull

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