Humber in a Box

Humber in a Box was a world-first merging of a research-grade environmental model with a gaming engine (software used to build games). MEng students from the University of Hull’s Computer Science Department coded in a version of the Lisflood hydraulic code into Unity-3D and constructed a virtual environment to house it in. The purpose was to visualise the the impacts of sea level on the Humber Estuary in a non-mediated way.

Screen capture of the Humber in a Box activity in use. Each side view shows the scene at a different angle and in a headset they are split between your eyes – this creates the illusion of a 3D scene. If you view this video on a phone with a cardboard headset, you can recreate this effect.

The game allowed users to view a miniature version of the Humber on a table in a museum setting. The Lisflood model was constantly running, simulating tidal cycles from data recorded in 2010, and you could see the water level go up and down (or in and out, or flood and ebb).

Unfortunately, we can no longer use Humber in a Box as it was developed for the older Oculus DK2 headset and the original game files were lost… We do hope one day to redevelop the game.


Rising Tide

The purpose for making and using Humber in a Box was to help people understand the complex relationship between sea level rise and flood risk. This is especially important in cities like Hull that are low lying, face high flood risk today, and can expect greatly increase flood risk as the sea around the city increases in level.

However, this often leads to the misconception that the sea level rise will actually totally engulf the city, submerging it below the sea, and necessity the eventual evacuation of the population. This is not only wrong but it also stops people engaging with agencies responsible of reducing flood risk and the work they are doing.

Instead, the increased flood risk does not come from ordinary tides but from elevated tides that occur when storms and high tides coincide. In the video below, Chris Skinner explains how this happens and how we can use computer models, like the one built into Humber in a Box, to understand this changing risk.

At the end of the video, there is a guide to using a model – this is the model that was used in Humber in a Box (and also for exhibits before we had VR). It should run reasonably well on any modern PC. For the guide on how to get it running, skip to 10 minutes through the tutorial. The files can be downloaded from here.

The Science

The original model emerged at the end of 2013. As part of the Dynamic Humber Project at the University of Hull, Chris Skinner was working with Tom Coulthard to develop a version of the CAESAR-Lisflood model to simulate changes to the bed of the Humber over the next 100 years. On December 5th that same year, a storm surge struck the east coast of England and resulted in extensive flooding across the Humber, including in the centre of Hull.

The next day they used data recorded from the storm in the model and found it was capable of simulating the observed flooding. They realised that the model could be used to rapidly assess flood risk across the area using different sea level rise and management scenarios. The assessment of the performance of the model is found in the paper below.

Skinner, C.J., Coulthard, T.J., Parsons, D.R., Ramirez, J.A., Mullen, L. and Manson, S., 2015. Simulating tidal and storm surge hydraulics with a simple 2D inertia based model, in the Humber Estuary, UK. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science155, pp.126-136.  [Free version]

This model has been continually developed and improved and is now being continued by colleagues within the Energy and Environment Institute. The model has contributed to projects such as the Hull Frontage Flood Defence Improvements and the Hull Lagoon.

We are very pleased to have contributed to the future defence plans for the Humber Estuary, assisting with scenario modelling to help inform the Humber Strategy 2100+.