UKRI looks set to approve £38m weather research programme

A new UK-wide network of hydrological measuring equipment has been proposed to support the country’s research in, and resilience to, extreme weather events such as flood and drought.

It is hoped that the government-led UK Research and Innovation will invest £38 million in the Floods and Droughts Research Infrastructure project, slated to start early next year.

FDRI would be established over five years starting in April 2023 by the Natural Environment Research Council, part of UKRI, and its strategic partners, including the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.

The new investment would fund the deployment and testing of imaging equipment and sensors to measure river flows, rainfall, soil moisture, groundwater levels and water quality in selected river basins across the UK – in Southeast, Northwest and Northeast England, Wales and East Scotland. There will be a combination of fixed instruments and mobile equipment such as drones to monitor river flows, which can be deployed to different areas at times of floods and droughts.

This infrastructure would generate more comprehensive and reliable data in “near real time” for different regions, enabling researchers to improve computer models to predict when and where floods and droughts will happen, and how severe they will be.

Dr Iain Williams, director of strategic partnerships at NERC, said: “Increasing the UK’s resilience to extreme flood and drought events is an important response to changes in climate and human activity. This Floods and Droughts Research Infrastructure will provide an exciting step-change for new digitally enabled research, hydrological data, and technological innovations across the UK. I am very grateful to the hydrological community who have helped shape the development of this investment.”

Professor David Hannah, director of the Birmingham Institute for Sustainability and Climate Action at the University of Birmingham and Chair of the FDRI scoping study steering committee, added: “I am thrilled that UKRI have allocated funds – for field monitoring, digital infrastructure and innovation testbeds for technology development – to transform our understanding of river basin hydrological processes and system dynamics. Such new fundamental research is vital to underpin sustainable catchment management, and enhance ecosystem and human resilience to flood and drought impacts in a changing water world.”

In England, the winter floods of 2015-16 caused £1.6bn in economic damage, while drought during 2021 caused a loss in revenue of at least £165m.

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