Putting real-time data into the hands of water managers

A year on from the launch of the UK Water Resources Portal, it is being used as a valuable and reliable real-time water monitoring tool by environmental and water managers.

The web-based system tracks the latest hydrological situation across England, Wales and Scotland, allowing users to explore up-to-date data including rainfall, river flows, soil moisture and groundwater levels.

It makes use of very recently published real-time river flow data from the Environment Agency (EA) and puts it in the context of longer term water availability, using data from the National River Flow Archive based at the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH), including knowledge about drought indicators that have been developed through the About Drought programme.

It includes standardised indicators for rainfall (Standardised Precipitation Index), river flows (Standardised Streamflow Index) and groundwater (Standardised Groundwater Index), but allows users to switch to actual values, which can make them easier to understand. Indices can be compared between locations with very different rainfall and between times of year or be calculated over different time frames, depending on the user’s requirements.

Matt Fry, Environmental Informatics Manager at the (UKCEH), manages the data workstream of the About Drought knowledge exchange project. His focus has been on co-designing the tools to put the research programme’s data into the hands of users in an accessible and meaningful way. He says:

You do not need technical skills to use the UK Water Resources Portal. Anyone with an interest in current water resources or drought conditions can use it – from policymakers to members of the public, businesses to farmers and regulators to consultants. It really helps to raise awareness of the status of river flows and rainfall, particularly during drought episodes, and we believe it is an excellent communications tool for all sorts of end users and decision makers

Jamie Hannaford, Principal Investigator of About Drought and Principal Hydrologist at UKCEH, adds:

“The UK Water Resources Portal is a big advance in real-time data availability.”

The UK Water Resources Portal is just one of the many user-friendly data products from About Drought.

Explore the data platforms here.

Read more in the online About Drought Handbook.

Historic Droughts: Using the past to inform the future

Lucy Barker (UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology) presents on a number of cutting edge aspects of drought science.

Climate change projections indicate that extreme events will increase in their frequency and severity in the future.  An improved understanding of the drought events of the past can inform current and future management. In this talk, Lucy demonstrates how reconstructed river flows have enabled consistent, national scale characterisation of historic hydrological droughts and how access to current and historic data can support ongoing drought monitoring activities.

The work originates from a number of projects including Historic Droughts and the About Drought programme and you can view the talk below.

This talk is part of the British Hydrological Society webinar series, “Future Hydrology in a Changing Environment”. You can view past webinars on their YouTube channel.

Ecosystem report cards

The environment work stream has developed five ecosystem-based report cards to communicate the effects of drought in an accessible way. The report cards are a synthesis of existing knowledge and new research within the programme. The ecosystems are:

The report cards capture the latest, cutting edge data from the programme and designed to be used by all, including the general public. The series summarises current and future aspects of water scarcity in the main ecosystems of the UK and cover the ecosystem responses, future scenarios and potential for drought management.

Experts from About Drought discuss the past few months remarkable weather

Experts from the About Drought project have given updates on the recent changeable weather we’ve been seeing in the UK and further afield.

The team at the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) released a blog post which focused on the hydrological transformation following the wettest February on record, which soon turned into one of the driest springs on record. Low soil moisture and river flows at the end of May have resulted in impacts on agriculture and the environment, and heightened concerns over water resources over the longer term.

“There is now an increasing risk of reduced crop yields and potential water use restrictions.”

Katie Muchan, Hydrologist at UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

Find out more by visiting the UKCEH blog post which also highlights the UK Water Resources Portal, one of the outputs from About Drought.

Adding to the debate, Professor Len Shaffrey at the University of Reading contributed to a blog post exploring the reasons as to why we are seeing such changeable weather.

The article explores whether the persistent high-pressure “blocking” weather systems which bring clear, dry conditions for many days or weeks, are becoming more frequent. These systems are particularly synonymous with heatwaves and drought in summer and bitterly cold conditions in winter.

Len explains that changes in the Arctic, “might influence the frequency of blocking events”:

“The theories suggest that as the Arctic warms, changes in the strength and position of the northern hemisphere jet stream will allow blocking events to become more frequent.” 

Professor Len Shaffrey, professor of climate science at University of Reading

Find out more by visiting the Carbon Brief blog post.

Interested in the UK water resources situation?

Following the wettest February on record earlier this year, last month is set to be declared the driest May in England for 124 years with some water regions warning of potential drought conditions.

The UK Water Resources Portal allows anyone with an interest in current water resources or drought conditions to explore the data both nationally and locally. The portal makes use of very recently published river flow data from the Environment Agency and rainfall data from the Met Office to show the situation across the UK. Alongside historical data and standardised indices, the Portal allows users to put the current situation into a historical context.

Check out the UK Water Resources Portal

For help using the Portal we have created a YouTube User Guide

The UK Water Resources Portal is one of the outputs from About Drought project. More information and further outputs can be found in the About Drought Handbook.

TRANS.MISSION II – UK

Hay Festival and the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) joined forces for Trans.MISSION II, a new global project pairing leading environmental researchers with award-winning storytellers to communicate cutting-edge science to new audiences. The UK strand saw British writer and journalist Patrice Lawrence paired with scientists Dr Sarah Ayling, Professor Lindsey McEwen from the DRY project. Using the project’s work as inspiration, Patrice and the team have created a piece of creative writing to highlight the issues around UK droughts and water scarcity.

Patrice Lawrence is a British writer and journalist, who has published fiction both for adults and children. Her writing has won awards including the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize for Older Children and The Bookseller YA Book Prize. 

The work was launched at Hay Festival Online festival on the 25 May 2020. The story, by Patrice Lawrence, is set in the not too distant future when London is running low on water…

More information about the Hay Festival and the Trans.Mission II project.

Book bringing drought research to children wins national award – DRY: Diary of a Water Superhero

A drought storybook for children has won a national award for its beautifully illustrated message about water scarcity in the UK.

In announcing the Geographical Association Publishers’ Silver Award for ‘DRY: Diary of a Water Superhero’ on Thursday, April 16th (2020), judges said ‘… this fantastic picture book found the perfect balance as a powerful personal story line, supported by excellent art work, delivering a range of interesting geographical facts’.

The book, written as a young girl’s diary, has been published by the Drought Risk & You (DRY) Project, which is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). The story runs over the course of a year and tells how an ordinary schoolgirl in the UK transforms into a water superhero when a dry summer and winter with little rainfall lead to drought. Seeing life through ‘water goggles’, the girl shares her new-found love of water with her school and community, as the drought progresses.

The story and accompanying teacher notes were created by Prof Lindsey McEwen, who heads the DRY project and is Professor of Environmental Management and Director of the Centre for Water, Communities and Resilience at the University of the West of England Bristol (UWE); Dr Verity Jones, Senior Lecturer in Education at UWE; Sarah Whitehouse, Senior Lecturer in Education & Humanities at UWE and Dr Sara Williams, an environmental psychologist and researcher. The illustrations by artist Luci Gorell Barnes play a key role in projecting the relevance of the story and the science behind it.

The award was judged on the book’s impact, originality, quality and usability.

DRY: the diary of a water hero won the Silver Geographical Association Publishers’ Award

Prof McEwen said: “Our authoring team are extremely pleased to gain this external recognition for excellence. Our book aims to make new research accessible to, and engaging for, young children. The development of the book and teachers’ notes represents a new successful creative collaboration between University of the West of England Bristol’s Centre for Water, Communities and Resilience and its Primary Education specialists, working together with socially-engaged artist Luci Gorell Barnes.”

The DRY Project is part of About Drought, the UK’s Drought & Water Scarcity Research Programme, funded by NERC as part of UK Research Innovation (UKRI). Three themes of the research are explored in the book: classifying different types of UK droughts and their impacts; interrogating common misconceptions surrounding UK drought; and exploring what actions citizens might take to prepare for drought and how children can be agents for change in rethinking water behaviours.

The full Silver Award citation reads: “The judges thought that this fantastic picture book found the perfect balance as a powerful personal story line, supported by excellent artwork, delivering a range of interesting geographical facts. This results in a book that will engage and empower a KS2 audience studying water or wider environmental issues. The accompanying teacher’s guide is filled with challenging and thought-provoking activities that include developing the concepts of ‘water footprints’ and ‘UK droughts’. They are well designed to deepen pupils’ thinking and facilitate questioning, discussion and debate. The message that we can all be champions of change is a key one and will inspire children to take action.”

DRY: Diary of a Water Superhero is available to read online in English and Welsh

Teacher’s notes are also available https://dryutility.info/learning/