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.

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

Earth Arcade @ Freedom Festival 2019

August 31st and September 1st, 11 am to 6 pm, Queen’s Gardens, Hull

We have some very exciting news! The Earth Arcade is coming to Hull’s Freedom Festival!

Freedom Festival is THE event in Hull. It all began in 2007 in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade, an act passed after decades of work by Hull-born independent MP, William Wilberforce. Since 2007 it has grown massively, and in 2018 the festival had over 130,000 visitors.

“Excellent arts and culture can change lives and communities, by transmitting fundamental human values and inspiring all ages to embrace and celebrate freedom. We’ve seen it. It may be no surprise then that our ambition is founded on the legacy of Hull-born freedom advocate, William Wilberforce” – Freedom Festival website.

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Chris demoing Humber in a Box at Freedom Festival 2015

SeriousGeoGames has been involved in three previous Freedom Festivals, starting in 2015 when we demoed Humber in a Box, and including 2016 when the virtual reality version of Flash Flood! was demoed to the public for the first time. With the Earth Arcade, we have the perfect opportunity to take things to the next level, and the Earth Arcade at Freedom Festival really will be something special.

The name Earth Arcade is meant to loosely evoke a sense of Arcadia – a mythical utopia where human society and the natural world live together in harmony. This is the future we hope for, the future we are striving to build, and we hope to inspire others to come with us on that journey. To create our mini-Arcadia we have teamed up with colleagues from the University’s School of the Arts to design the exhibit.

We will be exploring the impacts of the world’s most pressing environmental issues through our activities Flash Flood! Vol.2, Plastic Fishing, Top Trumps: Rivers, and small games on our Ipad stations. You will be able to find out how climate change and sea level rise will impact our city, Hull, and the wider Humber through our new and improved Rising Tide game on our big screen.

The forest

Freedom Festival will also see the debut of an exciting new activity space. The Forest is something a bit different to the rest of the Earth Arcade, and sci-comm in general. It is a quieter, reflective, and mindful space where people can sit and think about nature, with a small library of stories and ideas and crafts and workshops to inspire people to engage with nature more. We will be using theatrical and scenographic techniques to help people engage, such as interactive soundscapes.

Finally, we will be offering advice on how people can respond to the environmental issues explored, offering them the chance to sign up to becoming an Earth Arcade Champion by committing to making small changes in their own lives.

It is going to be brilliant and we hope to see you there!

Resilience – Development of a Card Game

I’ve been working on a prototype card game for SeriousGeoGames for a while now. The game, with the working title Resilience, sees players take control of a city and its surrounding area with the aim of staying in that job until the end of the game. The catch is there is another player with their own city also trying to reach that goal. With the ability to make events happen in each other’s cities, you each pose a threat to the other’s political survival.

Although I toyed with the idea of having multiple stresses to deal with, the game just got too unwieldy, so the focused down on flooding as the main hazard. Players can build defences, enact resilience measures, or implement things purely as they are popular – if they want to be aggressive, they can send a storm towards a rival city. Through playing the game, players will learn about the complexity of flood defence from physical, societal, and political perspectives.

360 time lapse of players trying an early version of Resilience at the EGU 18 Games Night.

The game is designed to be a deck builder, so rather than each having the same deck of cards players can choose a pile from their collection allowing them to try different strategies. I’m designing the game to have enough layers – through use of cards, dice, and tokens – that there will be numerous styles of play possible. The main goal of the design is for the game to be fun, with plenty of replay value, yet the deck building aspect adds in a further dimension – collectability.

I still have piles of Pokemon and Star Wars cards from when I was a kid, even though I never played either as a game. When I get free packs of cards in gaming magazines for games I will never play, I keep them. Especially the ‘shinies’. There is something tactile and attractive about a well-designed, crisp, high quality card, and this is something I want to tap into with Resilience.

My rubbish PowerPoint mock up (left), and Kelly’s design to use on the back of the cards (right). A big improvement!

Enter Kelly Stanford, Sci Artist. I’d been looking for an artist for a few months and seen some nice work, but no one seemed quite right for the game. Then I came across Kelly’s work on her Twitter and was blown away. She is a specialist in making science-based art and has worked on numerous public engagement projects, working in a range of styles from sculpture, hyper-realistic, and cartoon. She’s also a gamer and after a coffee meeting at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry it was clear she got what I trying to achieve.

I commissioned her at the beginning of the year to develop the designs, and Kelly has wasted no time producing great designs for the cards – nothing like my rubbish PowerPoint efforts! So far we have the awesome logo for the back of the cards, a card template, and some concepts for the card types.

My original card template (left), Kelly’s template design (middle), and Kelly’s concept sketches.

I’m hoping to try out the first full prototype combining game and art designs at the EGU Games Night on April 10th, and after that I’m still not sure where it will go. There are several options to look at for production and dissemination, such as getting funding for a limited run, crowdfunding, getting a commercial backer, or simply releasing the game in a PDF to print your own cards. The game is designed so that additional decks can be added to the initial deck to add further complexity and variety, and I plan on offering bespoke limited edition shiny cards for events and projects.

I’m really excited about this project. I think the game has the potential to not only be fun but really help with the communication of flood risk management and its complexities and challenges. There is nothing quite like a game for putting you in someone else’s shoes. Keep an eye on this blog and Kelly’s blog for further news about Resilience.

SeriousGeoGames’ 2018 Review

We have had a fantastic and extremely busy 2018. Definite highlights have been the redevelopment of Flash Flood!, exhibiting in the Natural History Museum, and obviously, launching the Earth Arcade. In fact we have been so busy, we’re going to show you our highlights month-by-month.

January

We had over 80 school pupils from Newland St John’s visit us and try Flash Flood! and River in a Box as they learnt about flooding.

February

Our founder and SeriousGeoGamer, Chris Skinner, was awarded a University of Hull Research Excellency Award for Outstanding Impact, Outreach or Engagement, for his work with SeriousGeoGames.

March

In March we took Flash Flood! along to demonstrate at the Flood and Coast conference. We were part of a stand promoting our new home, the Energy and Environment Institute at the University of Hull.

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The Energy and Environment Institute stand at Flood and Coast 2018.

April

2018 saw the first ever, unofficial, Games Day at the European Geoscience Union‘s General Assembly in Vienna, Austria. Chris Skinner convened a full science session sharing how researchers use games to research, teach, or share geosciences, and then in the evening over 200 scientists came together to play the games.

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Promotional image made for the EGU Games Day 2018.

Articles featuring Flash Flood! were published in Teaching Geography and Geographical Review magazines.

May

In May we started putting together the kit and branding for the Earth Arcade, and its fist outing was supporting a visit of a delegation from the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). We even featured on the front page of their newsletter.nepad.png

Chris Skinner demonstrating the Earth Arcade interactive touchtable.

The kit we put together includes five full VR stations and a large interactive touchscreen table.

Later in the month we spoke to over 500 members of the public at the Natural History Museum, as we were joined by colleagues from the University of Reading to demonstrate Flash Flood!. The event was part of the Museum’s half-term programme supporting NERC’s Operation Earth.

Demonstrating Flash Flood! at the Natural History Museum.

June

Chris Skinner shared Flash Flood! at the Natural History Museum with a Nature Live talk.

July

We were invited to participate in the Living with Water project’s Hulltimate Challenge event, and we took a copy of Flash Flood! down to Queen Victoria Square, central Hull, to support the press launch of the event. This was the first time we used the branded Earth Arcade kit in public.

August

We launched the Earth Arcade officially to colleagues within the University of Hull with an event held in the Map Library of the Cohen Building.

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Setting up the Earth Arcade branding for the first time in the Map Library.

September

In September things got really busy! We started by once again teaming up with BetaJester to redevelop Flash Flood! for our new Earth Arcade kit – Vol.2 features sound effects, voice overs, improved graphics, and greater realism.

As part of the British Science Festival, hosted at the University of Hull, we took three activities down to Humber Street for an evening science street party. We demoed Flash Flood!, Humber in a Box, and our touchscreen table.

Earth Arcade assets at the British Science Festival.

At the Hull Science Festival we officially launched the Earth Arcade to the public and exhibited a mini-festival within the festival itself. In our Earth Arcade we showed the Flash Flood! Vol.2 for the first time, Plastic Ocean Fishing, Flood City – Hull, Humber in a Box, and a collection of Top Trump card games.

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The first ever Earth Arcade at Hull Science Festival.

For the second time we were nominated for the HEY Digital Award for Best Use of Technology in Education, but lost out to the excellent Ron Dearing UTC.

We collaborated with colleagues across the University to use our games and research to help with teaching students, including assisting with modules in Drama, Digital Media, and Computer Science.

A delegation of flood risk practitioners from Sweden were visiting Hull to learn from the local City Council and the Living with Water project. We were invited to share Flash Flood! Vol.2 with them, and even got a tour of the Hull Tidal Barrier.

At the end of the month, Chris Skinner spoke to over 50 City of Culture volunteers about the University of Hull’s research into plastic pollution and the #MyPlasticPledge project as part of a masterclass for the launch of the Hull Refill scheme.

October

The big event of October was the Living with Water’s Hulltimate Challenge – a huge 10 km assault course around the centre of Hull. The Earth Arcade was a sponsor, we exhibited Flash Flood Vol.2 and Ocean Plastic Fishing, and large team from the Energy and Environment Institute successfully completed the course.

Team EEI and the Earth Arcade at the Hulltimate Challenge.

We were invited to bring the Earth Arcade to the Manchester Science Festival via a Platform for Investigation at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry. This was our first ever plastic pollution focused event.

PI – The Problem with Plastics at Manchester Science Festival.

The University of Hull stand at Scarborough Science and Engineering Week won an award for Most Informative Exhibit, and we were pleased to be part of this stand with Flash Flood! Vol.2.

November

November saw Flash Flood! come home. The original Flash Flood! was produced for and funded by the NERC Flooding from Intense Rainfall (FFIR) research programme, and with the programme coming to a conclusion we were invited to provide a Games Room at the final showcase for the event at the Royal Society, London. We brought along the full set of Flash Flood Vol.2, Flood City – Hull, and were joined by games from University of Reading and Sam Illingworth of Manchester Metropolitan University.

Exhibits and the Earth Arcade at the NERC-FFIR Showcase.

The final public event of the year for us was using Flash Flood! Vol.2 to promote the Energy and Environment Institute at the Scarborough Business Day, where the keynote speaker was former Deputy Prime Minister, Lord John Prescott.

The EEI stand at Scarborough Business Day

December

We ended the year as we begun with a visit from pupils from local schools who used Flash Flood! Vol.2 as part of a workshop looking at flooding and geomorphology.

Finally, we were part of a team including #MyPlasticPledge and Kids Against Plastic looking at how we can all reduce the amount of plastic waste we produce at Christmas, with the 12 Days if Plastic-free Christmas.

2019

2019 promises to be an equally busy and exciting year and will see the development of new games, including  Inundation Street (an urban-based VR flood simulator), and Resilience (a collectible card game). It is also sad as we say farewell and good luck to SeriousGeoGame veteran, Chloe Morris, as she travels to Australia to start the next stage of her career – we will miss you Chloe!

Good bye Chloe… 🙁

Thank you everybody who has supported us in 2018, and a special thank you to all the volunteers who have helped us bring our games to the public – we really couldn’t do it without you.

We’re bringing Flash Flood! to the @NHM_London for #OperationEarth 29-31 May 2018

We are super-super-super excited to tell you we will be bringing our Flash Flood! VR game to the Natural History Museum in London. We will be joining a series of other exhibits as part of the Museum’s half-term Operation Earth showcase, and we will be there from the 29th of May until the 31st of May, 11am to 4pm each day. To find out more about this event, click here.

In the last couple of years we have been at the Science Showcases for the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) – Into the Blue and Unearthed. This year, NERC are doing something a little different, working with museums and science centres to bring their Operation Earth family science show to people up and down the country. To learn more about Operation Earth and to find an event near you, click here.

We are also very excited that we’ll be joined by our friends from the University of Reading, and the NERC-funded Flooding from Intense Rainfall project (FFIR) – the project for which Flash Flood! was designed. At the event you can play Flash Flood! and meet the scientists whose research inspired it, both from Reading but also the Energy and Environment Institute (EEI) at the University of Hull.

We look forward to meeting you there!

Image Credit: NERC

Our Games at NERC #UnEarthed2017 17-19 November 2017

Last year we took our Flash Flood! game to the NERC Science Showcase, Into the blue. We had an amazing time, and you guys seem to as well as we were voted as one of the most popular exhibits. Read about what we got up to here, and also check out our article in NERC’s magazine Planet Earth.

We are very excited therefore to be returning for this year’s NERC science showcase, UnEarthed, held at the Dynamic Earth centre in Edinburgh. You can find more details on their website – tickets for the public days are free.

The stand this year, Keeping Back the Floods, is organised by the Energy and Environment Institute, University of Hull. It features two of our popular Virtual Reality games – Flash Flood! and TideBox (formerly Humber in a Box) – and will let you get hands on with the cutting-edge of flood risk science and the latest in gaming technology.

 

 

#GuessTheData Answer – 04/10/2017

What is this data? Answer below the Picdynhum

This is the Humber, showing the region immediately north of South Ferriby, with Read’s Island and the Old Warp sandbank.

The background is a visualisation of LiDAR data, a high resolution laser scan of ground heights. It’s made up of several scans over the period 1998 to 2016.

The green dots and red lines show the location of a bathymetric survey performed in 2016. This uses an instrument called a multibeam which scans the surface below water, s the green dots show the location of the channel used by shipping in 2016.

It’s clear from the background data that when the LiDAR scan was taken there was no channel, so at some point the channel in the Humber has shifted and eroded into the sand bank.  The Humber is indeed dynamic, and this causes problems when we try and predict what will happen in estuaries using computer models which do not allow for changes like this.

All data available via the Environment Agency’s Open Government License portal.

A Virtual River-in-a-Box = Problems!

If you’ve been to an event and played one of our games, you will have most likely also seen the River-in-a-Box mini-flume. This is a big box of plastic sand, through which water flows, building miniature rivers.

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Xuxu setting up River-in-a-Box for Hull’s Freedom Festival in 2015

I’ve been trying to recreate this in a computer model called Caesar-Lisflood – the model that is built into TideBox. Caesar-Lisflood not only simulates water flows, but is designed to simulate the movement of sediment (mud, rocks, stuff like that) to show how geomorphology processes – erosion and deposition – change the landscape. My latest attempt is below, and there are many, many problems with it.

Let me explain why this is an issue. Caesar-Lisflood was designed to simulate changes to large areas (eg, whole river basins) over a long time (more than 1000 years often). If it were an athlete, it would be Mo Farah – lean and quick, keeps a steady pace, and although capable of a sprint when required, it’s there for the long-haul. Trying to use it to simulate the River-in-a-Box is like trying to make Mo Farah compete in the 100 m sprint – he is not optimised to do this in way another athlete, say Usain Bolt, is.

The main problem we have is that this video shows nearly two weeks of processing on the computer. That is slow – slower than the time it is trying to simulate (a few hours’ worth of changes in the River-in-a-Box*). One of the purposes of computer models is that they are much quicker than real-life so the fact this is far slower means, scientifically, it isn’t much use.

There is also instability – you will see areas in the flow which look like a chequer’s board and this is too much water being moved downstream that the physics in the model then immediately moves it back upstream, and this continues, back and forth. It’s a bit like when you were a kid when you ran down a hill and went so fast your feet couldn’t keep up so you tumbled over – we can help the model to stop doing this by instructing it to slow down in certain areas, such as restricting the amount of water it can move from one place to another in one go.

As it is, this is a pretty (yes, it is pretty) rubbish piece of modelling (my fault, not the model’s), but there is potential here. We use flumes, which are like River-in-a-Box but bigger and more advanced, to better understand how landscape change. We use computer models in a similar way, and the physics we learn from the flumes helps us develop the models. The ability to simulate the flume environments in a computer model would be a useful one as we would learn more about how our experiments work, what their weaknesses are, and how we can make them better. This in turn will improve our ability to simulate the real world and, for example, forecast risks like flooding with better accuracy.

I hope to share more of this experiment with you as it develops. Thanks for reading.

Dr Chris Skinner – @floodskinner

*Actually, technically, it is still quicker than real-life. As Caesar-Lisflood is like Mo Farah, to help it out I made the course more like the 10,000 m. All dimensions and times in the model have been multiplied by 100, so for each centimetre in the River-in-a-Box the model is told it is a metre. Likewise, to simulate an hour the model is simulating 100 hours (the video shows more than 28 days of actual simulated time). The only thing not scaled in this way is the size of the sediment, which is kept at 0.0003 m.

Flash Flood! YouTube Now Online! #Isurvivedtheflashflood

We are very, very excited to be able to unleash our YouTube version of Flash Flood!

You can view this on a PC, but it’s best viewed using a phone or tablet where the motion tracking allows you to easily view the full 360 view. If you have a cardboard headset, such like our #ISurvivedTheFlashFlood VISRs, then hit the goggles icon on the video, stick you phone in and try the Flash Flood! VR experience yourself. It’s even better with headphones.

The #ISurvivedTheFlashFlood VISR VR Headsets – the ideal way to view Flash Flood! on YouTube

Do keep your eyes on our Twitter, Facebook and this blog – we hope to release more YouTube videos like this in the near future, as well as support to use this is the classroom.

If you want a copy of our full game version, it is now free to download on SourceForge.

Finally, thank you NERC for the funding, and thank you BetaJester for the development.