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.
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.
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.
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.
*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.
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.
Ok, I’ll admit, we’ve been a little quiet of late. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t been busy working on new games to fascinate and entertain you at future events.
At the NERC science showcase, Into the blue, we won one of the four prizes and this has allowed to develop Flash Flood! further. We’ll be using the prize to make interactive YouTube walk-throughs of the game meaning anyone with an internet connection can try it, and using a cardboard headset can even get a sense of the VR.
Dr Matt Perks – @catchmentsci – demonstrating Flash Flood! at Into the blue
Last September we began working with students from SEED Software on two (yes, two!) projects. The first is a rebuild of Humber in a Box, making it smoother and more intuitive – this new iteration of the game will be called TideBox, focussing on the science of estuaries more generally than just the Humber (although the Humber still features prominently).
Development shots from Defend the City
The second is our most ambitious project yet – Defend the City. The games uses the CAESAR-Lisflood model to simulate the flooding in our town, Uncanny Valley. The player(s) get to build in their own flood defences on the attractive 3D environment, and then see just how successful they have been. It will be used during workshops, and will convey two key issues of flood defence –
You can never eliminate flood risk completely
Flood Managers have to strike a balance of cost and benefit with any scheme
We hope to debut all three of these projects at Hull Science Festival, April 2-4 2017. It is free but you will need to pre-book some activities.
Finally, if you want learn more about the Humber, its landscape and how it has inspired poetry, you can hear SeriousGeoGamer Chris Skinner on the Radio 4 Seriously… Podcast ‘I, by the Tide of Humber‘.
The goal of SeriousGeoGames is to explore the use of games, and gaming technology, to enhance the teaching, research and communication of earth sciences. As such, we don’t want to keep our games to ourselves, but rather want to share them as widely as possible.
To that end, we are inviting you to become a registered SeriousGeoGamer – simply contact us at seriousgeogames(@)gmail.com and provide us with the following details –
Your institution, school, company etc.
How you intend to use the applications
In return, we will send you a link from where you can download the software and guidance notes. (Please note, if you wish to use this on a network you will need to get permission to install 3rd-Party software)
By becoming a user, you agree to use it only for non-commercial activities, and we also want to hear from you about how it goes. Any stories or pictures we can share on our Twitter or Facebook Page are particularly welcome.
It’s just a little over two weeks until we’ll be heading to Manchester for the Into the Blue event, organised by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). NERC are major funders of scientific research in the UK, and SeriousGeoGames will be at the event with the NERC-funded project Flash Flooding from Intense Rainfall (the FFIR project).
25-29 October 2016 – The Runway Visitor Park, Manchester Airport – more information and tickets here.
The FFIR project aims to improve our ability to forecast flash flood events – this is currently difficult as the thunderstorms which typically cause them rapidly form, only cover small areas, and only last a short time. It is important as this type of flooding can be particularly devastating, and by its nature can occur rapidly with little warning.
At Into the Blue we will be taking three (yes, three!) sets of kit to run virtual reality demonstrations of Flash Flood! – come and see us and explore the virtual river valley, observing just like a real environmental scientist. Witness the destruction that flash flooding can cause, and chat to the research scientists from the FFIR project.
More details about Flash Flood!, its development and the science behind, can be found on its section of the website, here.
The event is great whatever age you are, but is especially great for school-aged children. It will feature over 40 exhibits of cutting-edge environmental science all under the wings of Concorde. There will also be the chance to win a tour of the FAAM Research Aircraft (Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurement).
FFIR Scientists at Into the Blue –
Professor Tom Coulthard (Geomorphologist) – University of Hull (@Tom_Coulthard)
Dr Chris Skinner (Geomorphologist) – University of Hull (@CloudSkinner)
Dr Rob Thompson (Meteorologist) – University of Reading (@R0b1et)
Dr Matt Perks (Geomorphologist) – Newcastle University (@CatchmentSci)
David Flack (Meteorologist) – University of Reading (@MetBirder)
It’s been a busy couple of weeks for SeriousGeoGames. A few weeks ago we finally got hold of the brand new Oculus Rift and, thanks to the excellent BetaJester, we have Flash Flood! running in Virtual Reality – we’re biased, of course, but it is truly awesome!
The second bit of news is about your first chance to try it – we’re very happy to have been invited back to Hull’s premier arts and cultural festival, the Freedom Festival, as part of the University of Hull science exhibits in Queen’s Gardens. You will be able to try Flash Flood! VR during the day on Saturday 3rd and Sunday 4th September 2016. There will be lots of other great exhibits, and speakers for Soapbox Science.
Chris demonstrating Humber in a Box at Freedom Festival 2015.
We immediately pack up the kit and get on a train to Plymouth for the annual meeting of the British Society for Geomorphology. Chris Skinner will be demonstrating the application and will also be presenting a talk on the science behind Flash Flood!.
Our next event will be the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) event, Into the Blue at the end of October. We’re really looking forward to this and will hopefully have several sets of kit running Flash Flood! underneath the wings of a Concorde – there will be numerous scientists from the Flash Flooding from Intense Rainfall project on hand to talk about their research (as well as the other 47 exhibits and tours of a research aircraft) – we will post more details soon!
#NERCIntoTheBlue – A Science Festival under the wings of Concorde!
Chloe Morris, a PhD student at the University of Hull, recently presented her research at the British Geological Survey’s (BGS) University Funding Initiative (BUFI) Annual Science Festival. Held at Herriot-Watt University, Chloe’s poster ‘Modelling the Interations Between Coasts and Estuaries’ featured a demonstration of Humber in a Box, and she won the “Best Overall Poster” award and £200.
“I presented my project which focuses on the interactions between coast and estuarine environments and I used the Google Cardboards to show one of the numerical models that I am using to carry out my research” – Chloe Morris
The event aimed to bring together current BUFI students and provide them the opportunity to share their research with each other, staff from the BGS, researchers at Herriot-Watt University, and local sixth-form students.
Chloe’s research aims to couple two numerical models together to simulate interactions between the Humber Estuary and the Holderness Coast. This is important as erosion from the cliffs washes a lot of sediment into the Humber Estuary and this can cause changes to the shape and depth of the Estuary bed, potentially causing problems to things like shipping traffic. Using models like this, Chloe will be able to make predictions of how climate change might effect the Estuary in the future.
Chloe used the Humber in a Box demo and Google Cardboard headsets to demonstrate how numerical models work.
“It’s difficult to explain or show on a poster what a numerical model is or what it does, but the Google Cardboards were a really useful tool that helped me to explain my methods to a mixed audience” – Chloe Morris
Well done Chloe, we look forward to seeing more of your research in the future.
You may know it as Humber in a Box but because we have big plans for the application we are changing the name to TideBox Beta. Whatever the name, TideBox has come from very humble beginnings.
VR view of TideBox Beta
It all began in the first couple of weeks of my first job after my thesis submission. I was working as a part-time Research Assistant for a project called Dynamic Humber, and my job was to use the CAESAR-Lisflood model to simulate long-term development of the Humber Estuary.
This was half a year before the storm surge of December 5th 2013 and flooding was not on the radar for the research programme – instead we were trying to crack modelling the sediment processes in the Estuary. The model is designed for rivers primarily, so needed to be adapted and tested for use in tidal conditions. I was continuing the work of Jorge Ramirez, and even now this work is ongoing with PhD candidate Chloe Morris leading the charge.
I was asked to present the Dynamic Humber project to the public at the Hull Science Showcase, the forerunner of the massively popular Hull Science Festival. I had no experience of science outreach at all, and only two weeks in the job – with the help of my colleague Sally Little (we were the Dynamic (Humber) Duo), we produced a poster and a short video detailing the programme. They were bad and a great example of how not to do public engagement.
Recently though, the “On This Day” feature on Facebook did trawl up a long forgotten memory for me – part of the video featured an ArcGIS fly through of the Humber Estuary data we were using for the model, including the Humber Bridge towers (very much not to scale). It took a few attempts to fly between the towers! I guess this was the initial inception of what would become Humber in a Box, and hopefully TideBox.