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Article

Remote Sensing of Floods  

Guy J.-P. Schumann

For about 40 years, with a proliferation over the last two decades, remote sensing data, primarily in the form of satellite and airborne imagery and altimetry, have been used to study floods, floodplain inundation, and river hydrodynamics. The sensors and data processing techniques that exist to derive information about floods are numerous. Instruments that record flood events may operate in the visible, thermal, and microwave range of the electromagnetic spectrum. Due to the limitations posed by adverse weather conditions during flood events, radar (microwave range) sensors are invaluable for monitoring floods; however, if a visible image of flooding can be acquired, retrieving useful information from this is often more straightforward. During recent years, scientific contributions in the field of remote sensing of floods have increased considerably, and science has presented innovative research and methods for retrieving information content from multi-scale coverages of disastrous flood events all over the world. Progress has been transformative, and the information obtained from remote sensing of floods is becoming mature enough to not only be integrated with computer simulations of flooding to allow better prediction, but also to assist flood response agencies in their operations. Furthermore, this advancement has led to a number of recent and upcoming satellite missions that are already transforming current procedures and operations in flood modeling and monitoring, as well as our understanding of river and floodplain hydrodynamics globally. Global initiatives that utilize remote sensing data to strengthen support in managing and responding to flood disasters (e.g., The International Charter, The Dartmouth Flood Observatory, CEOS, NASA’s Servir and the European Space Agency’s Tiger-Net initiatives), primarily in developing nations, are becoming established and also recognized by many nations that are in need of assistance because traditional ground-based monitoring systems are sparse and in decline. The value remote sensing can offer is growing rapidly, and the challenge now lies in ensuring sustainable and interoperable use as well as optimized distribution of remote sensing products and services for science as well as operational assistance.

Article

Risk and Resilience in the Management and Governance of Natural Hazards  

Christian Kuhlicke

The management of natural hazards is undergoing considerable transformation, including the establishment of risk-based management approaches, the encouragement to govern natural hazards more inclusively, and the rising relevance of the concept of resilience. The benefits of this transformation are usually framed like this: Risk-based approaches are regarded as a rational way of balancing the costs associated with mitigating the consequences of hazards and the anticipated benefits; inclusive modes of governing risks help to increase the acceptance and quality of management processes as well as their outcomes; and the concept of resilience is connoted positively since it demands a greater openness to uncertainties and aims at increasing the capacities of various actors to cope with radical surprises. However, the increasing consideration of both concepts in policy and decision-making processes is associated with a changing demarcation between public and private responsibilities and with an altering relationship between organizations involved in the management process and the wider public. To understand some of these dynamics, this contribution undertakes a change of perspective throughout its development: Instead of asking how the concepts of risk or resilience might be useful to improve the management and governance of natural hazards, one must understand how societies, particularly with regard to their handling of risks and hazards, are governed through the concepts of risk and resilience. Following this perspective, risk-based management approaches have a defensive function in deflecting blame and rationalizing policy choices ex-ante by enabling managing organizations to more clearly define which risks they are responsible for (i.e., non-acceptable risks) and which are beyond their responsibility (i.e., acceptable risks). This demarcation also has profound distributional effects as acceptable risks usually need to be mitigated individually, raising the question of how to ensure the just sharing of the differently distributed benefits and burdens of risk-based approaches. The concept of resilience in this context plays a paradoxical yet complementary role: In its more operational interpretation (e.g., adaptive management), resilience-based management approaches can be in conflict with risk-based approaches as they require those responsible for managing risks to follow antagonistic goals. While the idea of resilience puts an emphasis on openness and flexibility, risk-based approaches try to ensure proportionality by transforming uncertainties into calculable risks. At the same time, resilience-based governance approaches, with their emphasis on self-organization and learning, complement risk-based approaches in the sense that actors or communities that are exposed to “acceptable risks” are implicitly or explicitly made responsible for maintaining their own resilience, whereas the role of public authorities is usually restricted to an enabling one.

Article

The Role of Intermediaries in Flood Risk Management  

Matilda Becker

Flood Risk Management (FRM) calls for stakeholders from multiple technical and social spheres to plan and implement policies and actions to manage flooding successfully. To work effectively across boundaries of knowledge, practice, priority, scale, institutions, and language created by such interdisciplinary or inter-stakeholder work, it is often necessary to employ intermediaries to create communication pathways between groups and spaces. Intermediaries (also sometimes referred to as mediators or boundary spanners) are responsible for managing boundaries in such a way that multiple actors are able to communicate effectively with limited ambiguity or frustration. Sometimes, intermediaries enable two actors to come together who would usually not interact. For FRM, knowledge and experiences should ideally be brought together collaboratively and smoothly, whilst accounting for the diversity of perspectives and priorities between stakeholders involved. Intermediaries may be organizations of humans, e.g., a public communications department; or objects, e.g., a computer model, website, or maps. Recognizing the utility of objects as intermediaries is important for understanding the multiplicity of mechanisms used to communicate FRM between experts and nonspecialist publics. Charting how intermediaries bridge different boundaries, we see the diversity and utility of their work. Inspecting the construction of boundary objects as intermediaries allows the actors involved in their creation and definition to be identified and analyzed. This is important as it may contribute an understanding of how just and representative FRM decision making is. Since the 1980s, various academic literatures from science and technology studies (STS) to organizational studies have addressed the role of intermediaries and mediators, particularly in relation to business management, computer sciences, and biomedicine. However, in FRM where risk analysis and communication is king, discussing how to manage pertinent and credible transboundary information is also important.

Article

Scalar Politics in Flood Risk Management and Community Engagement  

Thomas Thaler

Recent extreme hydrological events (e.g., in the United States in 2005 or 2012, Pakistan in 2010, and Thailand in 2011) revealed increasing flood risks due to climate and societal change. Consequently, the roles of multiple stakeholders in flood risk management have transformed significantly. A central aspect here is the question of sharing responsibilities among global, national, regional, and local stakeholders in organizing flood risk management of all kinds. This new policy agenda of sharing responsibilities strives to delegate responsibilities and costs from the central government to local authorities, and from public administration to private citizens. The main reasons for this decentralization are that local authorities can deal more efficiently with public administration tasks concerned with risks and emergency management. Resulting locally based strategies for risk reduction are expected to tighten the feedback loops between complex environmental dynamics and human decision-making processes. However, there are a series of consequences to this rescaling process in flood risk management, regarding the development of new governance structures and institutions, like resilience teams or flood action groups in the United Kingdom. Additionally, downscaling to local-level tasks without additional resources is particularly challenging. This development has tightened further with fiscal and administrative cuts around the world resulting from the global economic crisis of 2007–2008, which tightening eventually causes budget restrictions for flood risk management. Managing local risks easily exceeds the technical and budgetary capacities of municipal institutions, and individual citizens struggle to carry the full responsibility of flood protection. To manage community engagement in flood risk management, emphasis should be given to the development of multi-level governance structures, so that multiple stakeholders share fairly the power, resources, and responsibility in disaster planning. If we fail to do so, some consequences would be: (1), “hollowing out” the government, including the downscaling of the responsibility towards local stakeholders; and (2), inability of the government to deal with the new tasks due to lack of resources transferred to local authorities.

Article

Scaling Theory of Floods for Developing a Physical Basis of Statistical Flood Frequency Relations  

Vijay Gupta

Prediction of floods at locations where no streamflow data exist is a global issue because most of the countries involved don’t have adequate streamflow records. The United States Geological Survey developed the regional flood frequency (RFF) analysis to predict annual peak flow quantiles, for example, the 100-year flood, in ungauged basins. RFF equations are pure statistical characterizations that use historical streamflow records and the concept of “homogeneous regions.” To supplement the accuracy of flood quantile estimates due to limited record lengths, a physical solution is required. It is further reinforced by the need to predict potential impacts of a changing hydro-climate system on flood frequencies. A nonlinear geophysical theory of floods, or a scaling theory for short, focused on river basins and abandoned the “homogeneous regions” concept in order to incorporate flood producing physical processes. Self-similarity in channel networks plays a foundational role in understanding the observed scaling, or power law relations, between peak flows and drainage areas. Scaling theory of floods offers a unified framework to predict floods in rainfall-runoff (RF-RO) events and in annual peak flow quantiles in ungauged basins. Theoretical research in the course of time clarified several key ideas: (1) to understand scaling in annual peak flow quantiles in terms of physical processes, it was necessary to consider scaling in individual RF-RO events; (2) a unique partitioning of a drainage basin into hillslopes and channel links is necessary; (3) a continuity equation in terms of link storage and discharge was developed for a link-hillslope pair (to complete the mathematical specification, another equation for a channel link involving storage and discharge can be written that gives the continuity equation in terms of discharge); (4) the self-similarity in channel networks plays a pivotal role in solving the continuity equation, which produces scaling in peak flows as drainage area goes to infinity (scaling is an emergent property that was shown to hold for an idealized case study); (5) a theory of hydraulic-geometry in channel networks is summarized; and (6) highlights of a theory of biological diversity in riparian vegetation along a network are given. The first observational study in the Goodwin Creek Experimental Watershed, Mississippi, discovered that the scaling slopes and intercepts vary from one RF-RO event to the next. Subsequently, diagnostic studies of this variability showed that it is a reflection of variability in the flood-producing mechanisms. It has led to developing a model that links the scaling in RF-RO events with the annual peak flow quantiles featured here. Rainfall-runoff models in engineering practice use a variety of techniques to calibrate their parameters using observed streamflow hydrographs. In ungagged basins, streamflow data are not available, and in a changing climate, the reliability of historic data becomes questionable, so calibration of parameters is not a viable option. Recent progress on developing a suitable theoretical framework to test RF-RO model parameterizations without calibration is briefly reviewed. Contributions to generalizing the scaling theory of floods to medium and large river basins spanning different climates are reviewed. Two studies that have focused on understanding floods at the scale of the entire planet Earth are cited. Finally, two case studies on the innovative applications of the scaling framework to practical hydrologic engineering problems are highlighted. They include real-time flood forecasting and the effect of spatially distributed small dams in a river network on real-time flood forecasting.

Article

Societal Impacts of Flood Hazards  

Philip Bubeck, Antje Otto, and Juergen Weichselgartner

Floods remain the most devastating natural hazard globally, despite substantial investments in flood prevention and management in recent decades. Fluvial floods, such as the ones in Pakistan in 2010 and Thailand in 2011, can affect entire countries and cause severe economic and human losses. Also, coastal floods can inflict substantial harm owing to their destructive forces in terms of wave and tidal energy. A flood type that received growing attention in recent years is flooding from pluvial events (heavy rainfall). Even though these are locally confined, their sudden onset and unpredictability pose a danger to areas that are generally not at risk from flooding. In the future, it is projected that flood risk will increase in many regions both because of the effects of global warming on the hydrological cycle and the continuing concentration of people and economic assets in risk-prone areas. Floods have a large variety of societal impacts that span across space and time. While some of these impacts are obvious and have been well researched, others are more subtle and less is known about their complex processes and long-term effects. The most immediate and apparent impact of floods is direct damage caused by physical contact between floodwaters and economic assets, cultural heritage, or human beings, with the result for humans being injuries and deaths. Direct flood damage can amount to billions of US dollars for single events, such as the floods in the Danube and Elbe catchment in Central Europe in 2002 and 2013. More indirect economic implications are the losses that occur outside of the flood event in space and time, such as losses due to business disruption. The flood in Thailand in 2011, for instance, resulted in a lack of auto parts supplies and consequently the shutdown of car manufacturing within and outside the flood zone. Floods also have long-term indirect impacts on flood-affected people and communities. Experiencing property damage and losing important personal belongings can have a negative psychological effect on flood victims. Much less is known about this type of flood impact: how long do these impacts last? What makes some people or communities recover faster than others from financial losses and emotional stress? Moreover, flood impacts are not equally distributed across different groups of society. Often, poor, elderly, and marginalized societal groups are particularly vulnerable to the effects of flooding inasmuch as these groups generally have little social, human, and financial coping capacities. In many countries, women regularly bear a disproportionately high burden because of their societal status. Finally, severe floods often provide so-called windows of opportunities, enabling rapid policy change, resulting in new flood risk management policies. Such newly adopted policy arrangements can lead to societal conflicts over issues of interests, equity, and fairness. For instance, flood events often trigger large-scale investment in flood defense infrastructure, which are associated with high construction costs. Although these costs are usually borne by the taxpayer, often only a small proportion of society shares in their benefits. In addition, societal conflict can arise concerning where to build structural measures; what impacts these measures have on the ground regarding economic development potentials, different kinds of uses, and nature protection; and which effects are expected downstream. In such controversies, issues of participation and decision making are central and often highly contested. While floods are usually associated with negative societal impacts in industrialized countries, they also have beneficial impacts on nature and society. In many parts of the world, the livelihood of millions of people depends on the recurring occurrence of flooding. For instance, farming communities in or near floodplains rely upon regular floodwaters that carry nutrients and sediments, enriching the soil and making it fertile for cultivation.

Article

Socio-Hydrology of Floods  

Giuliano Di Baldassarre

Fatalities and economic losses caused by floods are dramatically increasing in many regions of the world, and there is serious concern about future flood risk given the potentially negative effects of climatic and socio-economic changes. Over the past decades, numerous socio-economic studies have explored human responses to floods—demographic, policy and institutional changes following the occurrence of extreme events. Meanwhile, many hydrological studies have investigated human influences on floods, such as changes in frequency, magnitude, and spatial distribution of floods caused by urbanization or by implementation of risk reduction measures. Research in socio-hydrology is providing initial insights into the complex dynamics of risk resulting from the interplay (both responses and influences) between floods and people. Empirical research in this field has recently shown that traditional methods for flood risk assessment cannot capture the complex dynamics of risk emerging from mutual interactions and continuous feedback mechanisms between hydrological and social processes. It has also been shown that, while risk reduction strategies built on these traditional methods often work in the short term, they might lead to unintended consequences in the longer term. Besides empirical studies, a number of socio-hydrological models have been recently proposed to conceptualize human/flood interactions, to explain the dynamics emerging from this interplay, and to explore possible future trajectories of flood risk. Understanding the interplay between floods and societies can improve our ability to interpret flood risk changes over time and contribute to developing better policies and measures that will reduce the negative impacts of floods while maintaining the benefits of hydrological variability.

Article

Systems Approaches for Coastal Hazard Assessment and Resilience  

Scott C. Hagen, Davina L. Passeri, Matthew V. Bilskie, Denise E. DeLorme, and David Yoskowitz

The framework presented herein supports a changing paradigm in the approaches used by coastal researchers, engineers, and social scientists to model the impacts of climate change and sea level rise (SLR) in particular along low-gradient coastal landscapes. Use of a System of Systems (SoS) approach to the coastal dynamics of SLR is encouraged to capture the nonlinear feedbacks and dynamic responses of the bio-geo-physical coastal environment to SLR, while assessing the social, economic, and ecologic impacts. The SoS approach divides the coastal environment into smaller subsystems such as morphology, ecology, and hydrodynamics. Integrated models are used to assess the dynamic responses of subsystems to SLR; these models account for complex interactions and feedbacks among individual systems, which provides a more comprehensive evaluation of the future of the coastal system as a whole. Results from the integrated models can be used to inform economic services valuations, in which economic activity is connected back to bio-geo-physical changes in the environment due to SLR by identifying changes in the coastal subsystems, linking them to the understanding of the economic system and assessing the direct and indirect impacts to the economy. These assessments can be translated from scientific data to application through various stakeholder engagement mechanisms, which provide useful feedback for accountability as well as benchmarks and diagnostic insights for future planning. This allows regional and local coastal managers to create more comprehensive policies to reduce the risks associated with future SLR and enhance coastal resilience.

Article

The Role of Road Transportation in the Flood Evacuation Process  

Marta Borowska-Stefańska and Szymon Wiśniewski

Floods, which are among the most dangerous and frequent disasters in the world, are expected to occur more frequently due to climate change. Floods, and flash floods in particular, generate economic, environmental, and social effects. Economic effects include damage to infrastructure, the negative influence upon transportation and communications networks, and an increase in fuel costs, as well as time loss due to traffic delays (congestion) and the necessity of taking alternative routes. It is therefore important to take action both to prevent and to mitigate these effects. In the 21st century there has been a radical change in the approach to the issue of flood protection (as seen in the approach formulated within the 2007 European Floods Directive)—it is no longer believed that there is such a thing as complete protection against floods, but that the damage and loss it inflicts can only be mitigated, and since floods cannot be completely eradicated, societies must learn how to live with them. In the event of a flood, preprepared procedures to counteract and mitigate the effects of the disaster are followed, including the evacuation of people and movable property from affected areas. Evacuation planning is meant to reduce the number of disaster-related (including flood) fatalities and material losses. Crucially, this type of planning requires a well-defined, optimum evacuation policy for people and households within flood hazard areas. In addition, evacuation modelling is particularly important for authorities, planners, and other experts managing the process of evacuation, as it allows for more effective relocation of evacuees to safety. Modelling can also facilitate the identification of bottlenecks within the transportation system prior to the occurrence of a disaster; that is, it enables us to determine the impact of flood-related road closures, and to comprehend—among other things—the effects a phased evacuation has on traffic load. Furthermore, not only may the ability to model alternative evacuation scenarios lead us to establish appropriate policies, evacuation strategies, and contingency plans, but it might also facilitate better communication and information flow. Evacuation from flood-hazard areas is a major challenge for the field of flood risk management as well as the fields of traffic engineering and transport planning. This is particularly true when the research has to include not only those journeys directly related to escape from hazardous places, but also their reflexive relationship with the total number of journeys made in the “background” of the evacuation itself.

Article

The United States National Weather Service Real-Time Flood Forecasting  

Pedro J. Restrepo

The U.S. National Weather Service (NWS) is the agency responsible for flood forecasting. Operational flow forecasting at the NWS is carried out at the 13 river forecasting centers for main river flows. Flash floods, which occur in small localized areas, are forecast at the 122 weather forecast offices. Real-time flood forecasting is a complex process that requires the acquisition and quality control of remotely sensed and ground-based observations, weather and climate forecasts, and operation of reservoirs, water diversions, and returns. Currently used remote-sense observations for operational hydrologic forecasts include satellite observations of precipitation, temperature, snow cover, radar observations of precipitation, and airborne observations of snow water equivalent. Ground-based observations include point precipitation, temperature, snow water equivalent, soil moisture and temperature, river stages, and discharge. Observations are collected by a number of federal, state, municipal, tribal and private entities, and transmitted to the NWS on a daily basis. Once the observations have been checked for quality, a hydrologic forecaster uses the Community Hydrologic Prediction System (CHPS), which takes care of managing the sequence of models and their corresponding data needs along river reaches. Current operational forecasting requires an interaction between the forecaster and the models, in order to adjust differences between the model predictions and the observations, thus improving the forecasts. The final step in the forecast process is the publication of forecasts.