About Drought experts at EGU General Assembly 2019

Experts from across the UK’s £12m drought and water scarcity research programme – About Drought – will be sharing insights at EGU2019, including Dr Katie Smith who has been invited to present a keynote talk.

Droughts and water scarcity jointly pose a substantial threat to the environment, agriculture, infrastructure, society and culture in the UK, yet our ability to characterise and predict their occurrence, duration and intensity, as well as minimise their impacts, has often been inadequate.

From the new ‘Shiny’ app to share and visualise data to a searchable archive of past drought impact information from diverse documentary sources going back 160 years, as well as podcasts and drought myth-busting videos, About Drought has brought together science and social sciences in a successful interdisciplinary approach that addresses current and future water scarcity challenges.

Four projects have been funded as part of this major programme with an additional final project – ENDOWS (known as About Drought) – focusing on engaging with stakeholders, practitioners and the public to involve them in the programme and to disseminate information about the findings, outputs and datasets that everyone can use. ENDOWS is also enhancing operational drought management through improved monitoring and early warning of drought which is being co-developed with stakeholders during the ongoing dry weather. Research also covers the impact of climate change and weather it is increasing the chance of events like the 1976 North West European drought occurring. The programme is funded by NERC, ESRC, EPSRC, BBRC and AHRC.

Although the programme does not wrap up until later this year, last year’s drought across Europe called  elements of its outputs into operational use ahead of schedule, by water suppliers, regulators and policy-makers. You can hear about this and other aspects of the programme during EGU2019 in Vienna, April 7-12.

The four projects are:

  • Historic Droughts – understanding past drought episodes to develop improved tools for the future.
  • IMPETUS – improving predictions of drought to inform user decisions.
  • MaRIUS – managing the risks, impacts and uncertainties of drought and water scarcity.
  • DRY – Drought Risk & You – bringing together stories and science to support better decision-making for drought risk management.

Katie Smith (Drought Analyst & Modeller, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Wallingford, UK)

Monday, April 8, 14:00-14:15 Room B

Keynote talk for session “Hydrological extremes: from droughts to floods” – What’s past is prologue: Reconstructing historic flow data to inform management of future hydrological extremes.

Read the abstract.

Follow Katie on Twitter @katieasmith26

Lucy Barker (Hydrological Analyst at Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Wallingford, UK)

Monday, April 8, 14:15-14:30 Room B

Session “Hydrological extremes: from droughts to floods” – UK Hydrological Droughts: how severe were historic events? Insights from a systematic event characterisation and ranking over the last 125 years. Read the abstract.

Monday, April 8, 16:15-18:00 Room -2.16

Session “Using R in Hydrology”. Lucy is a co-convenor and will be presenting her Shiny app, developed within the Historic Droughts project, as a demo of how you can use Shiny to share and visualise data. Read the abstract.

Follow Lucy on Twitter @lucybarkerjane.

Mike Bowes (Nutrient Hydrochemist & Group Leader on River Water Quality and Ecology, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Wallingford, UK)

The work Mike will be presenting is not directly funded through About Drought but the understanding of the causes / triggers of algal blooms in the River Thames will be used within ENDOWS this year to predict how the size and magnitude of algal and cyanobacterial blooms may change under future climate scenarios / future droughts.

Monday, April 8, 14:00-14:15 Room 2.31

Session “Advancing understanding of hydrochemical and ecological processes controlling fate of natural organic matter, nutrients and pollutants in freshwater and engineered systems using state-of-the-art methods” – Utilizing high-frequency, automated monitoring to determine nutrient sources, fates and impacts on microbiology in the River Thames catchment, UK. Read the abstract.

Nikolaos Mastrantonas (Research Associate Hydrologist, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Wallingford, UK)

Nikos is contributing to development of stakeholder bespoke visualisation schemes for sub-seasonal/seasonal forecasting of river flows and in the development of nationally consistent datasets, aiming to enhance resilience in the UK public water sector.

Friday, April 12, 16:15-18:00 Hall X3 Poster 85

Session “Extreme meteorological and hydrological events induced by severe weather and climate change” –Drought Libraries: a nationally consistent toolkit for improved resilience in the UK public water supply sector – poster presentation. Read the abstract.

You can follow Nikos on Twitter @NikMastrantonas.

Find out more from About Drought:

Watch a news report from the About Drought Showcase

View our drought myth-busting videos featuring water users, regulators and About Drought experts:

Listen to our podcasts featuring audio anecdotes with people recalling the 1976 drought, gardening, wildfire, media coverage of drought and water saving campaigns.

Browse this About Drought website to discover more about our research, latest events and sign up to the About Drought newsletter.

Follow us on Twitter: @AboutDrought

Thank you: Drought and Water Scarcity: addressing current and future challenges, International Conference

Thank you to all the guest speakers, presenters, poster pitchers and delegates who joined us from the UK and around the world for our Drought & Water Scarcity Conference on March 20-21.
The impressive range of data, topics, in-depth knowledge and communication insights demonstrated the breadth and interdisciplinary nature of the research that makes up About Drought.
We are preparing a post event e-pack that will feature content from the event and will be emailed to delegates.
Coming up we have workshops aimed at those using our research. If you would like to be notified of these and our other events, please subscribe to our programme newsletter via our homepage (bottom left) or email info@AboutDrought.info.

Water-saving media campaign entries are a splash hit!

Innovative media campaign ideas aimed at Millennials from Falmouth University students Chiara and David
Drought status shower icons designed by Chiara and David (Falmouth University)
Chiara & David’s shower icons in forecast (Falmouth University)

“The results span both social media and traditional media platforms, embracing the humorous side of water-saving and aiming to draw in a new, younger audience with different attitudes to consumption and waste”

By Dr Rebecca Pearce
Research Fellow at University of Exeter, who was the social science coordinator for About Drought

What’s the secret to persuading Millennials to change their habits and save water when drought looms? Who better to come up with effective answers than students from the School of Communication Design at Falmouth University?

The results are an inspiring range of peer-to-peer dynamic ideas and three will be showcased to delegates at this week’s Drought & Water Scarcity Conference at University of Oxford’s Pembroke College.

Having visited Falmouth in December 2018 to brief students extensively, I wasn’t sure how much of what I had said or presented to them would engage their creativity but they clearly listened carefully, carried out a substantial amount of work, and have come up with some great concepts. They have done a really excellent job and I would have liked to be able to showcase more of the results.

The quality is so high that I believe there may be some key players among the water companies and regulators that will have specific interests in some of the proposed approaches.

Posters to encourage water-saving behaviour in Millenials by Dannie & Max (Falmouth University)

I asked the students to shake-up the way we talk about drought and water-saving. Challenged to create a media campaign to raise awareness of water scarcity, drought, or a water-saving product, the results span both social media and traditional media platforms, embracing the humorous side of water-saving and aiming to draw in a new, younger audience with different attitudes to consumption and waste. They have clearly understood that I wanted a new narrative and approach to drought and water scarcity and they really delivered on this, having undertaken their own market research to fully understand their audiences.

Poster to encourage water-saving behaviour in Millenials by Watson and Cox (Falmouth University)
Poster to encourage water-saving behaviour in Millenials by Watson and Cox (Falmouth University)

Much of the work is based on humour rather than education or negative approaches such as rationing and threatening hosepipe bans. As the students pointed out, Millennials use a lot of water, few have gardens and hosepipes, and most don’t pay for their water directly as they either live at home, where parents pay, or in shared accommodation with bills included. They have no idea of the cost of water or the impact of using too much and therefore our current approach to water-saving campaigns will cease to be effective as baby boomers decline in number.

Innovative ideas include:

  • A Spotify Drought Playlist of 3-minute songs to shower to
  • Water-saving superheroes who feature in a series of funny and effective YouTube & TV adverts
  • A public installation of a glass shower cube which projects a water-saving superhero inside – viewers see the benefits of switching off whilst soaping up
  • A drought severity traffic light system applicable to weather forecasts, weather apps and water bills
  • Social media water-saving challenges
  • A water-saving week in June with plenty of neat ideas to make people sign-up to be water-savers and show-off their water-saving habits on Instagram etc. Popular online green influencers would be approached to get involved
  • Ambient stickers for sinks and toilet floors, with associated poster campaign showing things that Millennials save for, going down the drain as they waste water
Spotify playlist to encourage 3 minute showers by Dannie & Max (Falmouth University)
Spotify playlist to encourage 3 minute showers by Dannie & Max (Falmouth University)

If you are joining us at the Drought and Water Scarcity Conference on March 20-21 (2019) you can see a display of work by the students on the 1st floor, in the Andrew Pitt room. The students would love to hear from anyone interested in taking forward any of the campaign ideas commercially. It would be great if this competition could provide them with a springboard into a rewarding and creative career.

Drought experts to address UK conference March 20-21, Oxford

Fish rescues during drought
The Environment Agency carried out fish rescues during last summer’s drought, including this one on the River Teme in Hertfordshire. PHOTO: DAVID THROUP/ENVIRONMENT AGENCY

From hydrological modelling to drought communications strategies, from Italy to Birmingham, an impressive line-up of speakers has been released for the Drought & Water Scarcity Conference in Oxford – a must for anyone in research and policy aspects of water supply, quality, data, modelling, environment, agriculture, risk, policy, regulation and more.

The 2-day conference – March 20-21 – is organised by the UK Drought & Water Scarcity Research Programme (About Drought) and hosted by the University of Oxford. It will take an international perspective on droughts affecting our world, covering themes of climatology, hydrology, risks and impacts of drought, planning and impacts on communities and businesses.

Dr Helen Gavin, of the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford, is manager of About Drought’s MaRIUS project. She says: “The World Economic Forum has ranked water crises as among the top five global risks in 2019 – for eight years running.  Not only is it a major risk, but water crises are linked to many other social and environmental significant risks that confront our society. In our globally connected world, droughts and water scarcity affect everyone, and the unprecedented events experienced in recent years highlight a real long-term risk of severe drought.

“In response to this risk, our conference, “Drought and Water Scarcity: addressing current and future challenges”, focuses on the science, impacts and management of droughts, featuring case studies from around the world from highly regarded speakers.

“This multi-themed conference features case studies from around the world, exploring the different facets of droughts from forecasting to the implementation of better decision-making frameworks, from the assessment and management of drought impacts on natural ecosystems and communities, to the use of storytelling, models and earth observation.”

Conference speakers include:

The full programme can be viewed on our conference webpage, or downloaded as a PDF. Tickets cost £90 (2 days) or £50 (1 day).

Booking is open via the Oxford University booking system. Booking closes on March 13th.

Future water for food – About Drought at IRRIGEX 2019


If you are going to IRRIGEX on February 27-28, you can talk to our experts from the About Drought programme on Stand 10.
With many farmers unable to fill their reservoirs and time running out for winter fills, our leading researchers will be available at the two-day exhibition, in Peterborough, for informal conversations about the wealth of decision-supporting data About Drought has already made available.

Two of our team – Professors Ian Holman and Jerry Knox of Cranfield University also feature in the impressive programme of speakers and seminars.

In last summer’s drought some tools produced by About Drought – the £12m UK Drought & Water Scarcity Research Programme – were fast-tracked into real-time use in some sectors. Forecasts are currently indicating below average rainfall for this month and March so IRRIGEX is a timely opportunity to find out more about the tools available and how they can support your decision-making.

The theme for IRRIGEX this year is ‘Future water for food’ and it is free to attend. For full details visit www.irrigex.com. We look forward to meeting you on Stand 10.

About Drought briefing note 2: How to plan and manage water resources for public water supply

Image of front page of briefing note 2
Front page of About Drought briefing note 2 – How to plan and manage water resources for public water supply: future directions

This About Drought brief, How to plan and manage water resources for public water supply: future directions, looks at some risks, challenges and opportunities for supplies of safe and wholesome water to the UK population. It aims to help water planners and managers by presenting some of the most up-to-date approaches for dealing with uncertainty, including simulation and risk-based approaches, offering guidance on decision support tools and indicating future directions for planning and managing water resources. This is the second of a series of briefs to support improved decision making in relation to droughts and water scarcity.

The UK faces water supply shortages in the future, especially in London & the south-east. Increases in frequency & intensity of drought & high-precipitation events are projected in most regions. Uncertainty is ‘the new normal’ & conventional approaches to forecasting (based on past observed data) are less reliable than they were. To remain resilient in these uncertain conditions, the effective planning and management of public water resources is vital. Decision support for risk-based water resource planning is already available, and this brief aims to share some relevant findings from the DWS programme with water planners and managers, so that they can be put into practice moving forwards.

2018 World Water Week in Stockholm

World Water Week 2018
World Water Week 2018

In late August 2018 Prof Paul Whitehead attended the World Water Week in Stockholm. This is the annual focal point for the globe’s water issues. It was attended by over 3,300 individuals and around 380 convening organizations from 135 countries participated in the Week. Experts, practitioners, decision-makers, business innovators and young professionals from a range of sectors and countries come to Stockholm to network, exchange ideas, foster new thinking and develop solutions to the most pressing water-related challenges of today. The Water Prize attracts many entries each year; this year the junior prize went to two students from Singapore for producing reduced graphene oxide, a material that can be used to purify water, from agricultural waste products.

Paul attended many sessions and found these to be at a high level covering global issues with quite a focus on Africa this year. A strong reason for attending the meeting was to make contacts with others in the Water Sector, often at quite high levels. Paul rapidly got involved in a UN Habitats initiative to try to close the Sustainability Development Goal gaps, and in particular, ensure the provision of secure water for the entire world’s population. UN Habitats and other organisations (e.g. WHO) are very keen to close this gap; it is a massive task but projects are beginning to have an impact, in terms of new thinking and new methodology.

Meetings were well attended with people standing or sitting on the floor to get a space (see photo below). Paul found himself in the Dutch Embassy attending a packed event and discussing a wide range of topics from the MaRIUS Drought Project to new ways to measure the environment using biosensors, plus trying to persuade the Dutch to invest in Oxford Molecular Biosensors.

It was also a real pleasure to see so many Oxford Water MSc graduates at the meeting with at least 11 attending, representing their current organisations such as the World Bank, OECD, National Governments and Water NGOs from around the world. The evening get together on a Thai Boat in a Swedish Harbour was a great way to celebrate their success.

Introducing UK drought and water scarcity research to Korean audiences in Glasgow, United Kingdom

Jaeyoung Lee, who is a member of the MaRIUS project, received funding from the project to present her research at the 2018 Europe-Korea Conference on Science and Technology held in Glasgow, 20-24 August 2018. She describes her experience below.

Jaeyoung Lee
Jaeyoung Lee

Every summer, the Europe-Korea Conference on Science and Technology (EKC) brings together Korean scientists and engineers studying and working in Europe and in Korea. The conference aims to foster and develop new relationships, exchange knowledge and ideas and to promote science and technology that is of service to society. It also attracts European scientists and engineers interested in collaborating with Korean nationals. This year marked the 11th EKC, and it was held in Glasgow, UK from the 20th to the 24th of August 2018.

Science and Technology sessions provide an excellent opportunity for participants to exchange state of the art knowledge in comprehensive scientific areas ranging from basic science to engineering and policy. Ten groups with 42 specific sessions were on offer this year and my presentation was included in the basic science group, and the ‘Water on Earth: Rain, River and Ocean’ session. Many speakers were talking about their research within the Korean context, or Europe-Korean relationships or possible collaboration projects, whereas I shared my research in the UK context as part of the UK Drought and Water Scarcity programme.

I opened the presentation with a question, “Is there a drought in the UK?” As many of the Koreans in the audience are living in Europe and the UK and have experienced another dry and hot summer this year, a few started nodding, and many of them were curious about UK droughts. I started my presentation with how the MaRIUS project has started, and what we have been doing. I then brought the audience’s attention to my research on the ‘Dynamic water quality modelling in the Severn-Thames river systems and assessment of the impact of a water transfer in drought’. Inter-basin water transfer schemes have been discussed to tackle concerns on sustainability of water resources in the UK, and the Severn-Thames transfer scheme is one of the water resource development options under consideration by the Thames Water Utilities. The occurrence of severe drought events in past and climate change have highlighted the need for such transfer schemes. Key issues to examine and resolve relate to understanding water availability, water quality and the potential adverse biological impacts and it is important to ensure that both donor and receiving rivers are not adversely affected by the scheme. To explore possible risks and impacts of a water transfer on the Severn and Thames system, I applied newly developed MaRIUS climate change projection data (Weather at Home 2; W@H 2) to a hydrological model as well as a water quality model and then considered a set of hypothetical water transfer scenarios. I focused on my methodology and preliminary findings on water quality impacts including Dissolved Organic Carbon (DOC) concentrations in both river systems, which was driven by w@h 2 climate data. I got a few questions after the presentation, and the one we needed to discuss more was ‘the definition of drought’. As drought can mean different things to different people and is therefore defined in many ways, I explained the type of droughts including meteorological, agricultural, hydrological and socio-economical drought and the relevant risks and impacts.

I thoroughly enjoyed talking with people who are not familiar with drought research in the UK, but at the same time it was challenging to translate complex science into words that a more general audience can understand as well as find interesting. These are skills that scientists must develop to have any policy impact, so I thank the MaRIUS project for giving me this opportunity to do so.

Media response to an AboutDrought article

About Drought’s Len Shaffrey wrote an article in Conversation UK in July which triggered heatwave and drought articles across the UK media spectrum.
Len, who leads the About Drought IMPETUS project, improving predictions of drought to support decision-making, is particularly pleased to see climate change make The Sun front page.

Read his original article in Conversation UK.

If you want to promote your About Drought research, contact the project office on info@aboutdrought.info.

Montage of media coverage following Len Shaffrey's article on Conversation UK
Media coverage following Len Shaffrey’s article on Conversation UK

About Drought Showcase Review

Cover of the Showcase Review
Cover of the Showcase Review

The About Drought Showcase Review is available as an online magazine , featuring the high quality inter-disciplinary content from the About Drought Showcase held in March 2018. It is packed with useful presentations, links and information for people who attended as well as for those who did not. The Showcase Review also gives a detailed introduction for anyone new to the programme and its work.

It provides a comprehensive guide to:

  • The UK Drought & Water Scarcity Research Programme
  • Its four projects – DRY, IMPETUS, Historic Droughts and MaRIUS
  • The engagement project – ENDOWS
  • A documentary video filmed at the Showcase, including interviews with presenters and delegates
  • An overview of each session
  • Slides from presenters
  • Links to all the About Drought outputs and datasets

The purpose of About Drought is to share information, tools and datasets from the programme, continuing stakeholders engagement and further supporting evidence-based decision-making for the management and planning of drought and water scarcity.

Access the About Drought Showcase Review: