Environment Institute

Flood image: smh.com.au

Research from the University of Adelaide has shed further light on the complex issue of flood risk, with the latest findings showing the potential for flood risk to both increase and decrease in the same geographic area.

A team from the University’s School of Civil, Environmental and Mining Engineering has presented the findings of their study in the latest issue of Nature Climate Change, highlighting the differences between flood events.

There are two major types of floods from rivers: one is caused by heavy rain sustained over long periods of time that might affect large catchments over a wide geographic area; the other is caused by short but extremely heavy rain events, which might only last for 30 minutes and is usually localised, often called “flash flooding”.

“One of the common assertions of the climate change discussion is that ‘flood risk will increase’. And on balance, yes that’s probably correct, but we’ve found the issue is much more complex than such a blanket statement,” says corresponding author and Senior Lecturer Dr Seth Westra.

“At the global scale we’re increasingly confident that flood risk will change, because a warming atmosphere means more heavy rain. However, for any individual location the changes to flood risk will depend on each region’s rainfall patterns. Under certain circumstances the flood risk may actually decrease,” he says.

The team, including the paper’s lead author Dr Feifei Zheng and co-author Dr Michael Leonard, analysed data from rainfall gauges across the greater metropolitan area of Sydney. This data had been collected every five minutes from 1966 to 2012, representing a wealth of information.

“Our research reveals that short but intense rainfall events increased, while longer sustained heavy rainfall events tended to decline. This has complicated implications for flood risk, since floods in small catchments are usually caused by short rainfall events, whereas floods in large catchments require longer periods of heavy rainfall,” says Dr Zheng, a senior Research Associate from the School of Civil, Environmental and Mining Engineering.

“Our results also show a distinct seasonal variation. In summer, extreme rainfall increased strongly, while in the remaining seasons the changes were smaller and sometimes extreme rainfall even decreased,” Dr Zheng says.

This research group is at the forefront of research looking at the impact of short-duration rainfall, and how that may be affected by climate change. Dr Westra says each region will have its own unique features that determine the flood risk from both short and long-term rainfall events.

“You can’t directly compare patterns in Sydney with those of Brisbane, Adelaide, or even New York or London, because each area is unique. But what we are showing is that historical changes to rainfall patterns are much more complicated than is commonly appreciated. This means there’s a lot more nuance in how flood disasters might change as a result of climate change, which hasn’t been part of the commentary on flood risk until now,” Dr Westra says.

More information about water research and climate change can be accessed at the Environment Institute website.

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Dr Laura Weyrich, DECRA Research Fellow from the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA at the University of Adelaide was interviewed by Sarah Martin on Radio Adelaide’s The Sound of Science Program.

In Laura’s interview she expands upon what can be learnt from the evolution of the human microbiome and how it can inform approaches to current day medical treatment.

The human microbiome plays a big role in many bodily functions, including digestion, hormone balance and immunity.

Listen to Dr Laura Weyrich’s interview in its entirety here.

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Take some time to view the amazing research highlighted in the new Conservation Science and Technology (CST) website.

The Conservation Science and Technology Program is directed by a team of experienced researchers from the Environment Institute and the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Adelaide.

Professor Andy Lowe, Associate Professor Phill Cassey and Associate Professor Lian Pin Koh have expertise in conservation science, ecosystem management and conservation technologies, and are committed to using their research to work with government, industry and the community.

The CST aims to deliver innovative technologies to address pressing current day conservation challenges.

Find out more about their exciting research in:

  • landscape and biodiversity genomic monitoring
  • the terrestrial ecosystem research network (TERN)
  • unmanned research aircraft facility
  • combatting wildlife trafficking and illegal logging
  • conservation and restoration
  • biosecurity
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  Associate Professor Lian Pin Koh was recently interviewed by Sarah Martin on Radio Adelaide’s The Sound of Science program about the types and uses of unmanned research aircrafts, known as drones. Associate Professor Koh is Chair of Applied Ecology and Conservation, Deputy Director of the Conservation Science and Technology Program and Director of the Unmanned [...]

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A report of the Open Working Group of the United Nations General Assembly on Sustainable Development Goals was submitted to the Assembly in August 2014, and contained 17 goals with 169 targets covering a broad range of sustainable development issues. The UN Chronicle commissioned papers to take a closer look at those proposed sustainable development [...]

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Dr Diego Garcia-Bellido recently presented at the April 2015 Sprigg Lecture Series, held at the South Australian Museum. In his lecture entitled ‘From the Cambrian of Kangaroo Island to the Ordovician of Morocco,’ Dr Garcia-Bellido explored the Cambrian (541–485 million years ago or ‘Ma’) and the Ordovician (485–458 Ma) periods, which saw the sudden appearance [...]

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Ducks and other waterbirds on the River Torrens will be under close scrutiny for the next 18 months as University of Adelaide researchers investigate what ‘bird flu’ or avian influenza viruses they may be carrying. ‘Duckwatch’ starts along the River Torrens this month. The researchers will be monitoring and banding ducks and other waterbirds fortnightly [...]

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European wasp numbers are rising in the Adelaide Hills due to South Australia’s warm weather and a good available food source, says Professor Andy Austin from the Environment Institute’s Centre for Evolutionary Biology and Biodiversity. “We didn’t have a really cold winter last year, which is when the hibernating wasp queens tend to die off. [...]

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The Goyder Institute’s Water Research Conference was held at the University of Adelaide on Tuesday 17 and Wednesday 18 February 2015. This event showcased South Australia’s water expertise across a range of disciplines and sectors. Four key research themes included: water for industry, water for the environment, climate change and urban water. Listen to Dr [...]

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Dr Simon Divecha wants to reduce the impact of heat in cities by making more green urban areas. “If we shade the buildings, the walls, the roads, it stops that mass … absorbing that heat during the day and radiating that heat at night,” says Dr Divecha. Dr Divecha’s interview can be accessed at the News Limited website. [...]

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