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Scientists 'speed up time' by growing mini cress forests to inform future flood risk and resilience

Researchers are growing cress forests and planting matchstick log jams to test natural flood prevention methods, using the University of Hull’s rainfall simulator.

By growing scaled versions of forests with cress, and using matchsticks to create log jams, scientists will be able to work out how these flood defence approaches will be able to prevent future flooding.

To carry out the research, scientists have created a mini river catchment by using the total environment rainfall simulator and tens of tonnes of sand.

They are unleashing different magnitudes, intensities and frequencies of rainfall onto the scaled model, and analysing how the river system responds.

Professor Dan Parsons, Director of the Energy and Environment Institute at the University of Hull, said: “The great thing about this is that we can speed up time. We can use these scaled experiments and simulations to look at how effective these structures will be long term and what impact they will have on flood levels, how they affect the movement of sediments and ultimately how long they last.

“These kind of experiments are crucial as we can’t wait 30 years to grow a forest to see how it works and the effects it has. But here, in the simulator, we can do just that.”

By analysing how the rain is routed through the mini-catchment, researchers will be able to measure how it can be slowed in the basin, by replanting forests.

Researchers will also look at whether inserting engineered log jams and other natural flood prevention techniques are effective means of slowing the flow in headwater streams and reducing floods downstream.

Dr Stuart McLelland, Director of the Total Environment Simulator, added “This research will help us to understand and inform the longer-term efficiency and efficacy of these types of flood management interventions and use the results to help inform Government policy on future flood defences.

“We also want to help inform the investments and decisions made by those who are rolling out this type of natural flood management.”

The project is a collaboration between University of Hull researchers and those from Wageningen University in the Netherlands as part of a multi-million Euro European Union research grant, called Hydralab+, which addresses the urgent need to understand the consequences of climate change on rivers, estuaries and coasts and determine how they will evolve into the future.

The University of Hull is one of 24 partners working on the Hydralab+ Project to improve the prediction of how rivers, estuaries and coasts will respond to environmental change using experimental and physical models.

The rainfall simulator at the University has recently been upgraded allowing scientists to carry out much more accurate research around natural flood management.

Wietse van der Lageweg, a researcher on the project added: “We are now able to control the magnitude and intensity of the rainfall much more precisely than before, it allows us to represent a range of climate change scenarios and better test a range of flood management approaches.”

Timelapse

"These kind of experiments are crucial as we can’t wait 30 years to grow a forest to see how it works and the effects it has. But here, in the simulator, we can do just that."

Professor Dan Parsons, Director of the Energy and Environment Institute

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