January 30, 2024 | University Partners

University of Hull’s Innovative Digital Twin project will transform flooding forecasting and decision-making

A University of Hull project is one of five programmes to harness the potential of digital twinning technology to transform environmental science.

The projects will share a total of £2 million in funding delivered by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), in partnership with the Met Office, as part of the Twinning Capability for the Natural Environment (TWINE) programme.

A digital twin is a dynamic virtual copy of a physical asset, process, system or environment that looks like and behaves in real time identically to its real-world partner. Actions and events can be modelled with unprecedented accuracy, offering the ability to experiment in a non-live environment of the real world.

The digital twin pilot projects will demonstrate how research using Earth Observation data and emerging digital twinning technologies can transform environmental science across priority areas including climate change, biodiversity and ecosystems, and natural hazards.

Floodtwin, led by Professor Tom Coulthard, will build a digital twin for water-related hazard forecasting and decision-making for Hull and the East Riding of Yorkshire, a region heavily impacted by hazards such as flooding.

Professor Coulthard is Professor of Physical Geography at the University of Hull. He has been researching flooding for 25 years and works on projects connected to rivers and flooding around the world. In 2007 he chaired an independent review into the Hull floods and was lead author on the review’s influential report.

"This project is a big win and a great opportunity for Hull and the wider region. We’ve been asked to demonstrate how a Digital Twin can help manage flooding and water related hazards in the region – ahead of other areas in the UK."

“The Digital Twin will be a computer model of all the rivers, estuary, rainfall and groundwater in the region – that uses data from ground sensors and satellites to generate real time predictions of where there may be flooding hazards. But, the Digital Twin offers something more – it allows the users to test out and try fixes and preventative measures to see how flooding may be helped or where resources are needed. For Hull and the East Riding this might mean changing the timing of when flood storage sites and pumps are used to make the management of flooding as effective as possible.”

Professor Tom Coulthard, Energy and Environment Institute

Water related hazards pose both direct and indirect impacts such as damage to buildings and crops, businesses, loss of livelihoods and human health impacts. A digital twin for flooding will allow stakeholders to try out different management methods and conduct scenario analysis.

The novel approach is to co-produce the digital twin in collaboration with partners across different sectors, as well as engage with one of the more complex environmental ecosystems (hydrology and flooding) in terms of data integration and the physical processes involved.

The five NERC digital twin projects are led by scientists at the University of Hull, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, National Oceanography Centre, the University of Cambridge, and Plymouth University. They will develop digital twins in:

  • water-related hazard forecasting in Hull and East Riding of Yorkshire (FloodTwin)
  • coastal ocean ecosystems for assimilation to marine system models
  • ocean glider observations for ocean models which underpin weather forecasts
  • the operational flights of a research aircraft
  • a wave overtopping to produce a warning tool for wave hazards

The projects will last a maximum duration of 15 months.