International project aims to investigate storm surge risk to three Sri Lankan coastal communities

Picture by trokilinochchi [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

An international team of engineers is joining forces with a disaster educationalist to investigate coastal flooding due to cyclones in three communities within the northern and eastern provinces of Sri Lanka.

Communities in these provinces face a significantly greater risk of flooding from storm surges associated with seasonal cyclones than those in the rest of the country’s coastal belt.

Using a range of methods including computer modelling, researchers plan to develop a series of compound flood hazard maps that will take into account storm surge components, rainfall and the future impact of climate change.

The C-FLOOD (Compound flooding from tropical cyclone-induced sea surge and precipitation in Sri Lanka) project is being funded through a grant from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the UK’s Department for International Development under the SHEAR Catalyst programme.

It builds upon the previous work of national storm surge flood hazard assessment conducted by the University of Peradeniya and the Coast Conservation Department for Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Disaster Management. This work produced storm surge flood hazard maps for the entire coastline of Sri Lanka. However, these maps did not include the effect of precipitation. This new C-FLOOD project will include rainfall modelling into the coastal flood hazard maps for the three selected communities.

The C-FLOOD team will also work with governmental organisations and the local communities to help people fully appreciate the level of threat and the actions they can take to minimise the risk to them and their homes.

The project is being led by the University of Plymouth with University of East London, University College London, the University of Peradeniya (SL) and the Coast Conservation Department (SL). They partners will also work in conjunction with engineering consultants, universities and governmental organisations in the UK, Sri Lanka, Japan and Australia.

Alison Raby, Professor in Environmental Fluid Mechanics in the University of Plymouth’s School of Engineering, is the project’s Principal Investigator. She said:

“It’s a huge privilege to partner with experts in Sri Lanka, to quantify the hazards associated with flooding in these vulnerable areas. We hope that in developing an increased understanding of the coastal flooding mechanisms, and working alongside the local communities, we will improve their resilience to these natural hazards.”

Academics at the University of Peradeniya and the University of East London will develop state-of-the-art computer models of the flooding, and the effects of buildings and debris created by storm waves will be investigated through experiments in Plymouth’s COAST Laboratory.

Janaka Wijetunge, Professor in Civil Engineering at the University of Peradeniya who led the Sri Lanka National Coastal Hazards Modelling and Mapping Project said:

“The C-FLOOD project enables us to build on the considerable volume of work that has already been done by us during the past 15 years in understanding and mapping the storm surge hazard and risk in Sri Lanka. It is a pleasure to partner with academics from the UK to include effect of precipitation into computer models of storm surge and to further enhance community awareness of coastal flood hazards.”

Ultimately, the findings will be shared with community members and local and regional leaders and administrators in Sri Lanka, in order to maximise the uptake of the new hazard maps.

Ravindra Jayaratne, Reader in Coastal Engineering at the University of East London, added:

“The analysis from the hazard maps and flood impact mitigation methods can be implemented across the vulnerable communities in Sri Lanka and beyond. So it is important that we’ll be working very closely with people on the ground and the local communities to make sure they understand and implement the maps. It will mean better targeting of resources for disaster risk reduction, reducing loss of life from these natural hazards, and creating more resilient coastal communities.”

The main partners in the project are: University of Plymouth; University of East London; University College London; University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka; Department of Coast Conservation & Coastal Resource Management, Sri Lanka; University of Western Australia.

Assistance is also being provided in the UK by the Environment Agency, HR Wallingford, WS Atkins Ltd. and Black & Veatch Ltd, and in Sri Lanka by the Disaster Management Centre, Department of Meteorology, Climate Change Secretariat, and Lanka Hydraulic Institute, and by Waseda University, Japan.

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