Researchers report a new process called “collaborative flood modeling” can successfully address the increasing threat of rising waters due to climate change, aging infrastructure, and rapid urban development.

“The impacts of flooding continue to escalate in the US and around the world, and the main culprit is urban growth in harm’s way, with communities underprepared to deal with extreme events that are getting more intense in a warming climate,” says Brett Sanders, professor of civil & environmental engineering at the University of California, Irvine, and lead author of the paper in the journal Earth’s Future.

“Our approach rests on making modern flood simulation technologies accessible and useful to everyone within at-risk communities.”

Researchers put the method into practice during the Flood-Resilient Infrastructure & Sustainable Environments project. Beginning in 2013, FloodRISE teams worked in two Southern California coastal areas at risk of flooding—Newport Bay and the Tijuana River Valley—gathering data, conducting surveys, and holding face-to-face meetings with residents.

The technique showed considerable traction in the two regions. For example, following focus group meetings, Newport Beach managers asked FloodRISE engineers for flood elevation datasets to integrate into the geographic information systems the planning department uses.

Collaborative flood modeling combines the experiences and concerns of residents, landowners, government officials, and business leaders with the knowledge and technological capabilities of academic researchers to foster a shared understanding of flood risk.

A crucial element of any such effort is the iterative development of high-resolution flood maps, or visualizations, based on hydrologic models and the insights of people who have lived through past floods.

Collaborative flood modeling exercises such as those conducted through FloodRISE open flood-related decision-making to diverse groups of constituents, giving them helpful insights into the spatial extent, intensity, timing, chance, and consequences of flooding, Sanders says.

Read the full article about flood maps by Brian Bell at Futurity.