Floods and Droughts Research Infrastructure:

Floods and Droughts Research Infrastructure (FDRI): A new capital investment by the UK Government enabling essential science and innovation to improve the UK’s resilience to hydrological extremes. 

In June 2022, UKRI announced their intention to contribute £38M towards the establishment of a UK-wide, digitally enabled Floods and Droughts Research Infrastructure (FDRI). 

The investment will facilitate the hydrological science and innovation needed to make the UK more adaptable and resilient to floods and droughts. It will include urgently needed UK-wide deployments of instruments for observing our water environment, novel digital solutions to support data use, and testbeds for technological innovations. 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 ensure that the UK continues to provide global leadership for 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 determined research community requirements for an FDRI that identified and prioritised research community requirements for and 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.

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 in three well characterised river catchments, one in England, Wales and Scotland, with mobile instruments available for UK-wide deployment (see Figure). The number of catchments will be confirmed following detailed costing. Digital solutions will underpin the observational infrastructure and facilitate data use.

More specifically:

  • FDRI will be a network of community co-designed observatories providing nationally-relevant data, including deployable mobile instrumentation that will meet UK-wide science needs. 
  • FDRI will create a step-change in data-discovery, -access and -integration, enabling more efficient analysis and exciting scientific exploration of a range of environmental data. 
  • FDRI will include a capacity building programme to instil a strong culture of community leadership, multi-disciplinary, and collaborative working with consideration for skill-sharing, training and inclusion, cultivating the next generation of world-leading hydrological researchers. 
  • FDRI will 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's Government's Innovation Strategy.
  • FDRI will be a sustainable infrastructure aligned with the UK's net zero ambitions.

 

Flowchart linking the elements of an integrated sensor network on a basin
Figure 1: Illustration of the indicative FDRI infrastructure for one observatory hosting fixed infrastructure.

 

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 late in 2023. Implementation is then planned to take place over five years starting in early 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 2028.

The FDRI project includes four phases.

4 Phases of the FDRI Project

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. 

CLICK HERE to join us and become part of a collaborative network.

Please note: due to GDPR guidelines it is important that you 'opt in' to ensure your participation.

To find out more about the project or to change your involvement level, please contact fdri@ceh.ac.uk

 

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fdri@ceh.ac.uk

UKCEH lead investigator