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Floods and Droughts Research Infrastructure (FDRI)

A new 5-year capital investment by the UK Government enabling essential science and innovation to improve the country’s resilience to hydrological extremes. 

In June 2022, the UK Research and Innovation department announced their intention to invest £38M towards the establishment of a nationwide, digitally enabled Floods and Droughts Research Infrastructure. 

Led by the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, the FDRI will facilitate the hydrological science and innovation needed to make the country more adaptable and resilient to floods and droughts. It will include: urgently needed nationwide deployments of instruments for observing our water environment; novel digital solutions to support data -discovery, -access, and -integration; an innovation programme to support and catalyse research and development, and a capacity building programme to support collaborative working and skills sharing.

FDRI will advance our understanding of how, when and where floods and droughts occur, enabling improved predictions, robust assessment of impacts and implementation of appropriate mitigation measures. It will help ensure that the UK continues to play a leading role in hydrological research and innovation, driving solutions worldwide.

Why is UKRI investing in FDRI?

Floods and droughts cause significant economic, social and environmental impacts and they are predicted to increase in intensity, frequency, and duration in response to changes in climate and human activity. The need for new science to underpin the UK’s preparedness and resilience to these extreme events has never been more pressing. 

Without a significant investment in whole-system, hydrological infrastructure, evidence to underpin the UK's resilience to increasingly intense and frequent flood and drought events will be limited, and the costs and damages to society and the environment will spiral upwards.

This significant infrastructure investment was made possible by a 21-month-long NERC- and UKRI-funded scoping study that identified and prioritised research community requirements for an FDRI.

What will the impact of FDRI be?

FDRI will be available for use by the hydrological community to support the answering of fundamental research and innovation questions with the overarching aim to improve societal resilience to flood and drought events across the UK.

FDRI will facilitate:

  • A network of digitally supported hydrological research infrastructure to provide near real-time data for research on hydrological extremes
  • Increased capability to understand the processes of extreme hydrological events across the UK
  • Transformative innovation in field tools and data analysis to measure, predict and monitor the impact of extreme hydrological events.

Information from FDRI will provide the basis for future national- and local- level climate impact mitigation and adaptation strategies. It will underpin the evidence base for future investment in flood and drought protection schemes (enabling the adoption of more sustainable and adaptive solutions) and the delivery of national and international policies.

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What is the FDRI and where will it be located?

We propose that this investment will enable focused observations of water input, movement, and storage (see Figure below) in up to three river basins, one in England, Wales and Scotland, with mobile instruments available for UK-wide deployment. The number of basins, and instrumented locations within, will be confirmed following detailed costing. Digital solutions will underpin the observational infrastructure and facilitate data use.

More specifically FDRI will:

  • Feature a network of instrumented basins providing nationally-relevant data, including deployable mobile instrumentation that will meet UK-wide science needs. 
  • Include a capacity building programme  to instill a strong culture of community leadership, multi-disciplinary, and collaborative working.
  • Feature Integrated skill-sharing, training and inclusion, thereby cultivating the next generation of world-leading hydrological researchers. 
  • Include an innovation programme and field test-beds that will support and catalyse research and development of the most advanced monitoring technologies, in line with the UK Innovation Strategy.
  • Be a sustainable infrastructure aligned with the UK's net zero ambitions.

FDRI infrastructure
Figure 1:Illustration of the key components of the FDRI infrastructure within one FDRI river basin.

In June 2022 UKRI announced their intention to contribute £38M towards funding FDRI. Funding confirmation is subject to Business Case approval in 2024. Implementation is then planned to take place over 5 years starting in late 2024. As a NERC National Capability delivery partner, the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) will lead FDRI’s implementation and support its future operation.


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Scientific basis for FDRI

The overarching aim of FDRI is to provide observations of key components of the terrestrial water cycle, along with a complimentary digital infrastructure, that will facilitate new science to enhance the UK’s resilience to floods and droughts.

Extensive community consultations and reviews throughout the Phase 1 Scoping Study identified the following key flood and drought science questions that are critical to making a step change in our understanding:

  • What are the key flood and drought generation processes in different catchments? 
  • Where, and how, does water flow and get stored? How does water quality change during floods and droughts?
  • How will floods and droughts change in response to changing climate, land use and water resource management practices?
  • How can we improve the accuracy and lead times of flood and drought forecasts?
  • How can we provide the data, often in real-time, to address these questions?
  • How can we increase the opportunities for new research using new digital technologies?

FDRI will provide a platform enabling these questions to be addressed across key environmental gradients and at the extremes of hydrological regimes. 

When and how will FDRI be implemented?

In June 2022 UKRI announced their intention to contribute £38M towards funding FDRI. Funding confirmation is subject to Business Case approval in 2024. Implementation is then planned to take place over 5 years starting in late 2024. As a NERC National Capability delivery partner, the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) will lead FDRI’s implementation and support its operation beyond 2029.

The FDRI project includes four phases.

Illustration of the four phases of FDRI; Scoping: 2020 to 2022, Planning: 2022 to 2024, implementation: 2024 to 2029 and operation: 2029 onwards

During Phase 1 we undertook a Scoping study which encouraged wide community engagement, resulting in contact with researchers, regulators, water companies, interest groups. The outcome was a successful application to UKRI for infrastructure funding.  

To secure this funding the FDRI team are now focused on a Planning and Design phase (Phase 2) which involves the development of a robust business case and the successful completion of several related gateway reviews.  During this phase detailed planning is being undertaken to develop the ambitions and scope of FDRI. NERC has established a Community Advisory Group that is now working with the delivery team to review and additional representatives of the wider community to develop and review plans. Task and finish groups will be established to facilitate FDRI design as and when needed.

Throughout the lifetime of FDRI we will continue to engage with hydrological community to take account of emerging scientific requirements.  

Get Involved

The contribution of the hydrological community to the project is vital. This is your opportunity to become part of a collaborative, influential network. Your involvement will enable us to gain a clear understanding of the range and diversity of opinions and priorities across the community and will guide project outcomes. 
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