Freedom Festival 2020 – By Tide of Humber

This weekend is Freedom Festival. Last year we were having an amazing time running the largest ever Earth Arcade in a big tent in the centre of Hull, talking to hundreds, if not thousands, of people about the environment and the research of the Energy and Environment Institute. It seems such a long time ago now and it seems even longer before we’ll be able to run our Earth Arcade again.

Part of our Earth Arcade at Freedom Festival 2020

We love Freedom Festival and have run our virtual reality activities during the Festival in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2019. Honestly, it doesn’t feel right when we don’t get to play. This year’s Freedom Festival is fully online and even though we don’t have an Earth Arcade or are able to place headsets on people, we still have been involved in some of the activities for the Festival.

On Saturday 9th September, watch out for a cameo by Chris Skinner as a “real scientist”, as part of The Reset Lab’s Crazy Ideas programme, 3-5pm BST.

However, our main involvement has been behind the scenes of By Rising Tide of Humber. This brand new 360 video experience has been created by the University of Hull (led by Stewart Mottram) and BetaJester Ltd, funded by XR Stories. In the experience you meet poet Andrew Marvell in streets of 17th Century Hull, witnessing the flooding that he described within his works. The video can be viewed below and you can read more about the project here.

The view of 17th Century Hull, created by BetaJester using our computer model.

Unusually for us, we were not involved in the creation of the 360 experience itself, instead we used our expertise in using computer models to simulate flooding to recreate the descriptions within Andrew Marvell’s poetry. The flooding you see in the experience has been created using the outputs of our model.

To be able to do this, we needed to recreate 17th Century Hull to use in our model. The most difficult part was actually creating the land the city sits on, with our data coming from the present day and many changes having occurred in nearly 400 years, including building forward into the Estuary. Another issue was that although the data we used had been processed to show land surfaces only, the footprints of buildings and roads were still present and we needed to filter these out. Using this data along with historic maps of the city, we created contour lines for the 17th Century and produced our land surface from this.

The surface data for modern Hull. You can clearly still see the footprints of buildings and roads but we needed a smooth surface. The blue lines show the position of the waterfront during the 17th Century, further inland than the present day waterfront. The red lines show the 17th Century fortifications, an imprint still seen in the modern city, around the docks and Old Town.

The next step was to create the city itself. We added building, walls, roads, drains, and moats using a historical map that had been ‘georeferenced’ by research assistant, Helen Manning. She used identifiable features, such as road junctions and buildings that still exist, to stretch the image over a modern map. Working with Briony McDonagh, we used the map and historical records to add the heights and depths of these features to the land surface we had created.

Finally, we needed a flood. For this we used data for the 2013 storm surge taken from our Humber model. As sea levels were a little lower in the 17th Century we adjusted the water levels down slightly to account for this. We combined all the data together to produce the model in the video below. We then passed all this on to Betajester Ltd and they did their usual VR magic!

Our Research in Focus 1 – Hydrological modelling in data-sparse areas

Hydrological modelling using ensemble satellite rainfall estimates in a sparsely gauged river basin: The need for whole-ensemble calibration

Chris Skinner, Tim Bellerby, Helen Greatrex, and David Grimes.

Published in Journal of Hydrology, Volume 522, March 2015, 110-122

Read here (paywall) or free, non-formatted version here

Summary

This research highlighted some of the issues with using information from satellites to estimate how much rain has fallen over an area. Many satellite rainfall estimation methods cannot directly observe the rainfall itself, instead inferring the amount from other information, in this case the temperature of clouds – clouds cool whilst raining so if they are below a certain temperature it is likely they are raining. This method was pioneered by University of Reading’s TAMSAT team.

A map showing satellite derived rainfall estimates for Africa
Example of rainfall estimates derived from satellite information using the TAMSAT cold cloud duration method. Image from the TAMSAT website.

The relationship between cloud temperature and rainfall is not perfect and changes with distance and time, causing the rainfall estimates to be wrong in places. As we increase the detail we want to use the chances of it being wrong increase so to overcome this we can use lots and lots of repeat estimates – each using different relationships between cloud temperature and rain in different places and at different times – to create a set of results, each unique but with an equal likelihood of being correct.

Map of Senegal Basin area from the paper. Black dots show the location of the sparse network of rain gauges available for the research.

This set of estimates can be used to run different types of models – for example, to run crop yield models to help us predict how well crops will have grown. For this research they were used to run a hydrological model to predict how much water will have flowed through a river basin. These models rely on us tuning values in them so that the outputs closely match observed values, a process called calibration, but when you have a set of different rainfall estimates for the same period which do you use to perform the calibration? The method that produced the best results was to use all of them together.

Why does it matter?

In the UK, our rainfall is monitored by a long-established and well-funded network of rain gauges and rain radar, providing us with a high detailed view of rainfall across the whole country in near real-time. This wealth of data helps us operate detailed forecasting systems to predict rainfall in the future and inform warning systems for drought and flooding. However, in many parts of the globe these networks to observe rainfall do not exist.

Across sub-Saharan Africa, including in the Senegal River Basin that provided the case study for this work, the lack of ground instrumentation is particularly acute. To fill the gaps in the data satellite information is used to estimate rainfall but this is not as accurate or as detailed as networks of ground instruments. These estimates are used to determine drought and flood warnings and by insurance companies that pay out to farmers who have lost crops, and consequently income, due to a lack of rain. It is important we understand fully what satellite estimates are telling us so we can make the correct decisions.

Why should you read it?

If you are interested in learning more about rainfall estimation is data-sparse regions and/or hydrological modelling using uncertain probabilistic input data.

Who is going to help Callum?

We have some exciting news! We have teamed up with the Environment Agency and sociologists at Lancaster University to create a brand new 360 experience. The new video will tell the story of Callum, a young boy whose house was flooded, using his own words, and seeing through his eyes.

Often the story of flood recovery is an untold one. Houses and streets underwater make good headlines but once the water has drained away, who is left to tell the story of those left behind to try and rebuild their lives? A recent survey of those impacted by flooding in Hull in 2007, conducted by the Energy and Environment Institute and commissioned by the Living with Water Partnership, highlighted the issues of flood recovery, finding that 90% of those affected suffered additional health and wellbeing impacts. A crucial way of improving this is to tell the stories of flood survivors.

Children and young people can be severely affected by flooding. They are seldom given the tools to know what to do in a flood or how to cope with being uprooted from their homes, schools, and friends for a long time. Researchers at Lancaster University developed creative workshops with flood-affected children to help them tell their stories.

In workshops run by sociologists at Lancaster University children created models showing the hard work of flood recovery.

One of those stories, Callum’s, is the basis of the new video. Working with developers Lampada Digital Solutions we will put you into Callum’s situation as he and his parents have to deal with flooding in their home. It will help you see the world through the eyes of a young person, helping you understand the unique difficulties children have to deal with, and help you sense the fears and loneliness they feel. Throughout the video we offer pauses for reflection and ask what would you do to help Callum in this situation.

The ability of 360 video to immerse you into a scene combined with a powerful true narrative we hope will spread Callum’s story far and wide – for example, our Inundation Street video has been viewed over 800,000 times in little over six months. We will also be using innovative technology to produce an interactive version to use with our Earth Arcade VR headsets.

Development of the Help Callum experience has started and is due to be completed in early September 2020. Keep an eye of the SeriousGeoGames and Lancaster Twitter accounts to keep up to date with the latest news.


New @EEIatHull Research – The impact of different rainfall products on landscape modelling simulations

Research led by Energy and Environment Institute Research Fellow, Chris Skinner, has recently been published in the journal Earth Surface Processes and Landforms. The research, featuring an international team from Hull, Bristol, and Zurich, showed how different methods of measuring rainfall can lead to different predictions of landscape change in computer models.

Rainfall is a slippery thing. For those of us in the UK, we are very much aware that it can be raining one minute and then sunny the next, or it can be raining over your house but not over your friend’s house just a few streets away. This makes it a difficult thing to measure accurately and consequently meteorologists use several methods to try and do so.

The simplest way is to use a rain gauge. There are many different designs but, essentially, they are mostly all glorified buckets that fill with water as it rains, although some do take different approaches. They generally give us a good idea of how much rain has fallen at that spot between the times readings are taken. By automating the readings we can get a good idea of how the rainfall rate has changed over time.

Rain gauges cannot tell us how much rain has fallen outside the bucket. This is generally ok if you are still close to the bucket but the further away you get, the more of a problem this becomes. By using lots of rain gauges we can get a better idea of how the rainfall is varying across an area and we can use geostatistics to try and fill the gaps. However, the results will be different depending on the geostatistical method you decide to use.

Weather radar on the other hand is able to tell us the relative intensity of rainfall over an area. The radar sends out signals that are bounced back to it by rain and depending on the timing and strength of that signal we can tell where it is raining, and the areas it is heaviest. It does not directly measure the rain though and it needs calibrating against a reference point. This calibration may be less accurate as you move away from the reference point or if conditions change over time.

The consequence of this is the availability of different methods to measure rainfall, the results of which we call products. Each product will be different in its estimation of where, when, and how much rain has fallen and with many computer models of rivers relying on a measurement of rainfall as an input, the choice of product can have a big influence on the results from the model.

Landscape evolution models (LEMs) are designed to model changes to the Earth’s surface, usually over large areas and long time periods (at least one hundred years). Some of these models have become sophisticated and fast enough they can be used to explore more local and shorter-term changes. They need to use a rainfall product to run yet only rarely does a product exist that has a record long enough to cover the time scales simulated. Instead, we can use weather generators that take the characteristics of rain as recorded by a product to create long records of rainfall that are possible and likely based on the data.

Graphical abstract from Skinner et al (2020). The chart shows the changing pattern of erosion and deposition from the channel head to the catchment outlet after 1500 years of computer model simulation. The different colours represent the results using the different rainfall products. The records that produced the most change were based on longer records that contain heavier rainfall events.

In newly published led by EEI Research Fellow, Chris Skinner, a weather generator was used to produce long rainfall records based on different rainfall products, as well as a combination of information taken from each product. These synthetic records of rainfall were used to run a landscape evolution model for periods of 50 and 1500 years, finding that the patterns of erosion and deposition varied along a river depending on which product was initially used.

Due to the relationship between river flows and the movement of sediment in rivers, something known as the geomorphic multiplier, a small increase in river flow can result in a large increase in the amount of material eroded and transported by the river. This makes models of erosion and deposition extremely sensitive to changes in rainfall and consequently, the initial choice of rainfall product used can have a big influence on the model results.

As these modelling approaches are increasingly used to help understand the impacts of climate change or to help predict flood risk, understanding how the choice of rainfall product can impact results is crucial and needs to be properly managed by modellers.

You can read the full article here.

Playing Crabby’s Reef using bananas!

Last week we launched our new game, Crabby’s Reef, in time for World Ocean’s Day. Since then it has been played hundreds of times through our website, yet still no one has managed to beat my top score!

For an extra fun way to play the game, you can actually use bananas instead of your keyboard buttons. Yes, you read that right, you can play using bananas!

It is quite appropriate, as everyone knows Bananaman is the greatest superhero.

All you need is a Makey-Makey and some bananas* – hook everything up making sure you remember which banana controls what, and off you go.

Show us your attempts on Twitter and let us know if you get on the Leader’s Board!

Chris

Crabby’s Reef – Out now!

Today is World Oceans Day, a day to reflect on the importance of the oceans and marine life. Sadly, it is also a day to reflect upon the damage we are doing them. We are all aware of the dumping of plastics into the ocean and the spread of micro-plastics, however, most of us are probably not aware of the hidden impacts of climate change on the oceans – ocean acidification.

Ocean acidification is caused when CO2 in the atmosphere is absorbed by oceans. The CO2 reacts with sea water creating carbonic acid. The large quantities of CO2 human activity is dumping into the atmosphere is increasing the amount absorbed by the oceans, causing the ocean waters to become more acidic over time. This all has impacts on ocean environments, like reefs, and can cause marine mammals difficulties in finding food and shelter.

Despite the potentially devastating impacts of ocean acidification, a study found that almost 75 % of the British public had never even heard of it.

Dr Christina Roggatz is a researcher at the Energy and Environment Institute and her work has been highlighting the impacts ocean acidification has on marine life, such as crabs. She has been taking her research into schools and providing students the opportunity to conduct their own experiments to better understand the issue. We worked together, supported by our friends at BetaJester, to produce our new game, Crabby’s Reef.

Crabby’s Reef is our first classic arcade-style game. You play as Crabby, a crab, and you need to collect food to keep your health up. You also have to avoid the octopuses that would make you dinner. The game play should be familiar but there is a twist – with each new level the acidification of the water increases a little, dampening your senses, making it harder to find food and avoid predators.

The game is not meant to teach you everything about ocean acidification, although there is more information on our game page, but we hope it will introduce the issue more widely and start some conversations. We also hope you have fun.

Crabby’s Reef is available to play on PC now on our site – visit the game page here.

This World Oceans Day we encourage you to support The Deep. The Deep is an international player in marine conservation, working on pioneering research schemes to protect the future of our oceans. Conservation is at the heart of everything they do. Without visitors during the Covid-19 lockdown, The Deep have lost valuable income required to continue this work. We urge you to please support them in any way you feel appropriate – visit their site – buy from their gift shop – donate directly.

Classic arcade booths (image by Steve Miller, used under license).

We have big plans for Crabby’s Reef. We have secured funding from the European Geoscience Union to construct an arcade booth to house the game so once public events begin once more, we will be able to take Crabby on tour. The aim was always to make a virtual reality game for Crabby, a game that would show you the impact on Crabby’s world first-hand – this is the next step for the project and something we are currently seeking funding for.

Hope you enjoy the game, please don’t beat my high score!

Chris Skinner

SeriousGeoGames at #shareEGU20

The annual General Assembly of the European Geoscience Union, or EGU, sadly is not meeting in Vienna this year. However, the organisers have pulled off no less than a miracle, transferring a conference of ~16,000 people to 100% online in less than five weeks. It’s an amazing feat, and surely will help reduce the carbon footprint, and democratise, the sharing of the science in the future. The conference started this week and is free to attend – check out the website for more.

The SeriousGeoGames Lab is involved in a number of presentations and activities across the week, and I just want to highlight some of these here.

First, the Geoscience Games Night is back in an online format on Wednesday 6th May, 16:15 CEST (15:15 in the UK). Last year we had over 300 people attend the physical event so hopefully many will tune in to watch the crew play games together online and chat about geoscience, games, and where they intersect. Find out more here.

The Games for Geoscience science session is scheduled for a chat on Thursday May 7, starting at 18:15 CEST (17:15 in the UK). You can view and comment on the display materials now, until the end of May. Find out how researchers are using games to aid and share their work.

Research featuring members of the Energy and Environment Institute is being shared across the week. All these displays are open for comments outside of the chat sessions right up until the end of May, so don’t worry if you’ve missed them –

Blame it on the Weatherman: How critical is rainfall to geomorphology?

EGU2020-13216 | Displays | GM5.1/HS13.18/SSP3.15 | Highlight 

Chris Skinner, Nadav Peleg, Tom Coulthard, and Peter Molnar
Mon, 04 May, 08:30–10:15 | D1167

Resilience – Combining Sci-Art and card games for more effective public engagement

EGU2020-9987 | Displays | EOS4.2   

Kelly Stanford and Chris Skinner
Thu, 07 May, 16:15–18:00 | D3533

IMG-20190209-WA0001

Hydro-geomorphological response to changes in the spatial structure of extreme rainfall in a warmer world

EGU2020-1563 | Displays | HS4.1/NH1.8  

Nadav Peleg, Chris Skinner, Simone Fatichi, and Peter Molnar
Wed, 06 May, 16:15–18:00 | D118

Earth Arcade’s The Forest: Scenographic engagement spaces

EGU2020-13264 | Displays | EOS4.4  

Christopher Skinner, Amy Skinner, and Cat Fergusson Baugh
Thu, 07 May, 14:00–15:45 | D3554

 

Learn from home – modelling sea level rise and flooding video

We hope you are all keeping yourselves as safe as possible during the current period. We are very much missing being out and about and sharing our games and activities with everyone. To help share some of our work, Chris will be making short video tutorials and the first revisits the very beginnings of the SeriousGeoGames Lab and how we model the impacts sea level rise will have on flood risk.

The model used by Chris in the video is the Beta version of Humber in a Box (our first virtual reality activity) as used at Hull SciFest in 2014. The model code and data from this model were used by the developers to build into Unity-3D and add the beautiful, immersive, graphics. Sadly, Humber in a Box can no longer be used but you can get an idea of what it was like in the video below.

To go alongside the new tutorial, we are making the files for Humber in a Box Beta available so you can try it at home. It should run reasonably well on any modern PC. For a guide on how to get it running, skip to 10 minutes through the tutorial. Files can be downloaded from here.

Don’t forget to check out our previous post on how to use Flash Flood! from home too.

Enjoy and stay safe!

Try Flash Flood! at home

We find ourselves in difficult and testing times. We would love to be out there and sharing our games and virtual reality simulations with everyone but we at home doing the right thing. But, that doesn’t mean we cannot share some of games with you and we’ll be sharing these as we can.

Flash Flood

Flash Flood! has been our flagship activity for many years and has seen several iterations. There are several ways you can enjoy it from home, the easiest being the 360 videos available on YouTube. These can be viewed on a Desktop, where you can navigate the direction of view using your mouse, but are best viewed on a Tablet or Phone (via the YouTube app NOT a browser) where you can change the direction of view by moving your device.

There are two versions. One with narration to guide you through –

And one with just sound effects intended for use in classes where someone will guide the group –

If you’re viewing on a phone and have a cardboard headset, click the google icon on the screen and place your phone into the headset for a VR-like experience.

Obviously, the best way to experience Flash Flood! is to play it. You can do this too by downloading the Desktop version. This was designed to work on a reasonably low spec of PC and can be operated with either an XBOX controller or just a keyboard and mouse.

Download the files from SourceForge here. If you have an XBOX controller choose FlashFloodDesktopInstall.exe and FlashFloodDesktopNoRadialsInstall.exe if you do not. Controls can be found in the Flash Flood Quick Start and Controls PDF document.

Whichever method you choose, the Living Manual (also in SourceForge) provides some background information, guidance for using it, and advice for using it in teaching. This document has not been updated for a while and we will be reviewing it in the next few days. We welcome submission of ideas of how to use these simulations to include in the Living Manual, if you’d like to contribute please contact us at seriousgeogames at hull dot ac dot uk.

We’d also love to hear your suggestions for content you’d like to see from us, feel free to ask and we’ll try our best. Keep yourselves safe and happy.

Chris Skinner

AGU Games for Geoscience #Games4Geo

The Games for Geoscience sessions have been a huge success for the last two years at the European Geoscience Union General Assembly, with packed out science sessions and awesome Geoscience Games Nights. Don’t believe me, then check out this EGU blog on the 2019 EGU Games Day. This year we’ve decided to share this awesomeness across the pond and are bringing the Games for Gesocience sessions to the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting for the first time.

Although I won’t be there, Sam Illingworth and Rolf Hut will be, and they’ll be joined by Erin Robinson. Our two invited speakers are Judy Twedt and Isaac Kerlow. Here’s the programme –

Just like at the EGU, the Geoscience Games Night is community led and relies on people bringing their own games to play and share, so we really encourage you to do this – especially if they help us learn about and understand geoscience and environmental issues! We can help you publicise your games too, just drop me a message.

Hope you all have fun in San Francisco and make sure you share your thoughts, and photos, using #Games4Geo so I can follow along from home. Oh, and don’t forget, the call for abstracts for Season 3 of Games for Geoscience EGU is now open.

Chris