Flooding affects nearly 21 million people and costs over 96 billion dollars worldwide every year. And South Asia is one of the hardest hit areas. If flood conditions were better forecasted, then at-risk communities might have a chance at avoiding flood disasters. But adequate preparation requires at least 5 to 10 days advance notice of a flood, and in South Asia, a lack of information on rainfall and river conditions is an ongoing forecasting challenge. Now, researchers have created a model that can provide earlier warning of flood conditions using easy-to-access data.
The model, named ReqSim , tracks key features of basin hydrology using the principle of requisite simplicity to balance modeling complexity and utility. Using rainfall data, basin topography, and day-to-day persistence of river conditions, the model offers greater insight into the likelihood of flooding than other commonly used approaches.
The team used the model to forecast flooding in three rivers in Bangladesh: the Ganges , Brahmaputra and Meghna Rivers. The daily rainfall aggregated over several large areas of a river basin is a good predictor of downstream river flow, and thus flooding. The researchers mapped how long it takes water to flow from each river’s watershed to its basin outlet and then combined this information with river flow or water levels to forecast the likelihood of flooding.
By examining river conditions and large-scale rainfall patterns, the team accurately forecasted river flow. Different variations of the model allowed flooding in the Ganges and Brahmaputra River basins to be predicted up to 10 days in advance. One factor that affected the model’s accuracy under different conditions was whether forecasted rainfall was included. Depending on the river basin characteristics, 5 to 7 days of forecasted rainfall data may be sufficient for forecasting up to 10 days of river flow.
ReqSim’s forecasting accuracy rivals that of existing hydrologic models and satellite-based methods for the Ganges and Brahmaputra Rivers. The simple model structure and data availability allow for wide adoption of ReqSim anywhere in the world, including the Indus, Nile, Zambezi, La-Plata, and Mississippi-Missouri Rivers. More importantly, the modeling framework can be easily customized for any large river basin and can ultimately lead to effective flood preparation and response.