Water Research Group

Research areas

Flood risk management

The group plays leading coordination (Cluckie) and technical roles in both phases of the Flood Risk Management Research Consortium (FRMRC) (GR/S76304/01, EP/F020511/1). The group develops advanced Weather Radar Technology in the context of hydrology (Cluckie, Han, Rico-Ramirez). Recent key contributions include the removal of bright band (melting layer) contamination from quantitative weather radar. A unique data set, arising from observations since the 1990’s derived from ultra-high resolution weather radars designed and built by the water group has enabled the characterisation of vertical reflectivity profiles in the lower atmosphere in the UK. This work is allied to new Artificial Intelligence techniques applied to measurements of the vertical reflectivity profile derived from our X-Band Radars.

For many years the theoretical basis of the so-called “seeder feeder” mechanism (where high cloud orographically drops rain through a lower cloud), which causes intensive rainfall on the windward sides of mountains, has been postulated. Our radars deployed in New Zealand in collaboration with the University of Auckland provided the first detailed observations of this phenomenon during the course of the SALPEX Experiment.

Our work on Dual Polarisation Weather Radar technology has led to new algorithms that utilise novel artificial intelligence methods. These are being field tested by the Meteorological Office for implementation on the Thurnham Dual Polarisation Radar (PDF, 192 KB), the first DP operational radar in the UK. This work has been funded by FRMRC and will continue into the latter’s second 4 year phase of funding.

Various novel techniques for river flow, run-off modelling and real-time flood forecasting have been developed (Han, Cluckie) (GR/N09336/01). These include:

Innovative designs for sediment discharge systems for dams have been investigated (Loveless).

Work on two stage channel flow won the ICE Telford Medal (2005) (Sellin).

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Water and health

The AQUATEST research programme (October 2007) has attracted $13.1m funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a low-cost water test for developing countries (Gundry). AQUATEST collaborators are: UC Berkeley; World Health Organization; PATH; University of Cape Town; University of Southampton; Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland; and the Health Protection Agency. Within the University of Bristol, Chemistry, Policy Studies, Law and Child Health are involved.

The University is establishing the Water and Health Research Centre (WHRC). This has an initial distinct focus (i.e. delivery of the AQUATEST project) that differs significantly from, but complements, the well-established natural hazards focus of WEMRC. The strategic relationship between WEMRC and WHRC will be reviewed as the latter’s wider research programme develops.

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Many human activities (in including almost all Engineering activities) have an effect on biodiversity and yet we know that the preservation of biodiversity is essential for the stability of the ecosystems that support human life. Major elements of this concern relate to the effects of destruction and alteration of natural habitats and also the effects of global warming.

There is therefore a need to be able to observe the change in biodiversity, which in turn requires that we are able to measure biodiversity. This is problematic as biodiversity is normally measured by the production of species lists and these have a limited use for this purpose (When, if ever, are they complete? How does the list give details about the viability of the populations? etc.) There are many other problems also linked with using indicator species in species lists as they have a property of reliability which normally not given and this aspect of reliability is essential if they are to indicate anything!

Dr Feest has devised a simple but robust computer programme that allows the calculation of biodiversity indices that give a picture of the quality of the biodiversity in such a way that different sites can be compared and also changes recorded through time.

This research is being applied to a wide range of organisms (Macrofungi. Bryophytes, Spiders, Beetles). In practical engineering terms, this allows the recording of biodiversity before and after a project so that contract requirements such as “no net loss of biodiversity”, frequently used in road schemes, can be complied with. Similarly the post development monitoring of biodiversity that is requires by the SEA Directive can also become a possibility in a way that was not possible previously.

Dr Feest has been contracted by the European Environment Agency to triangulate Nitrogen Critical Load exceedence modeled from satellite information with butterfly biodiversity quality. The principles of this research can applied to other research scenarios such as those related to for example the Water Framework Directive and the definition of "Good Ecological Status".

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Hydraulic modelling

Civil engineers at Bristol University claim they can cut the cost of coastal engineering by 80% thanks to a remarkable new invention from the University’s hydraulics laboratory, Hydrolab. The BRUNO (BRistol UNiversal Octagonal armour unit) is a new type of armour unit that its inventors believe could result in large financial savings if it was adopted for use in the construction of all breakwaters, bastions, groynes and other coastal defences. Dr John Loveless, Hydrolab’s manager and a prominent member of COZONE, the UK’s coastal engineering network, has been researching the design of offshore breakwaters for 19 years.

Another activity is on marine current turbines which are, in principle, much like submerged windmills. They will be installed in the sea at places with high tidal current velocities, to take out energy from the huge volumes of flowing water. A team of academics from across the Faculty have come together to supervise a HydroLab research project which will run for four months and carry out preliminary model experiments on the latest design of marine current turbine for the capture of tidal power.

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Find out about our current and recent projects

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