Research

WaterIntellect researches and develops computing tools for simulating the hydrological cycle. The software can be used for modeling groundwater and surface water flow, including river systems. The movement of water is computed by representing mathematically natural processes that lead to infiltration of moisture into the soil and to the transfer of soil water to the rivers, the deeper groundwater and the atmosphere.

The software tools are at the forefront of current scientific knowledge. Results are regularly published in leading water resources and environmental research literature.

Drought and water scarcity



Drought is a phenomenon caused by extended periods of lower-than-average precipitation paired with high evaporation. Drought causes a decline in ground water levels and soil water content, exposing ecosystems to stress from water deficit.

During summer 2003 Europe experienced an extreme heat wave, that led to depletion of the already low surface and groundwater levels and to a severe reduction in agricultural production. Persisting heat periods are usually paired with high water consumption by agriculture and industry, including the cooling water needs for operating power plants. The water levels in in strategic reservoirs and large river systems such as the Rhine fell to record-low levels, threatening activities such as fluvial transportation. In Mediterranean Rim countries the continuity of drinking water supply was severely threatened. 

Hydrological models form, in combination with numerical weather prediction, essential instruments for the decision-maker in effectively managing water resources and planning preemtive mitigation of risks . Waterintellect pursues research to enhance hydrological modelling  that integrates spatial as well as temporal information on the physical processes that lead to drought.

 

 

Floods



Floods can have devastating effects, as experienced in August 2002 In Germany, and later in southern England, Hungary, Austria, Switzerland and other European countries. Every year floods claim human lives and destroy property and livelihoods in countries around the world. Floods are localised phenomena, where extreme rainfall causes rivers to overtop and inundate large areas inhabited by people.

While floods in lowlands are well understood and can be adequately modelled, there is still a need in predicting floods in smaller basins in alpine regions. These basins are generally steep and react quickly to high rainfall and cause flash floods.

Another important research aspect is the forecast of floods in basins that are scarcely monitored through rainfall stations, so-called ungauged basins. Forecasting floods in this kind of environment requires the use of advanced hydrological modelling tools,that are driven by innovative means of rainfall estimations such as weather radars. These measurements need to be assimilated into the model through techniques that make use of statistics.

Principal research is aimed at enhanced knowhow on how to extend flood warning lead time to issue timely alerts.

 

 

Landuse change



Population growth leads to an alteration of landuse in many parts of the world, as forested areas are cleared for intensive agricultural exploitation or are progressively urbanised. The resulting change of the landcover can have a significant impact on the hydrology of the region, because of the important role played by the vegetation.

As the natural vegetation is replaced by production species, the water redistribution between the surface and the deeper soil may become different from what it was before. A fluctuation in the amount of runoff in the river system could be one of the possible consequences.

Hydrological modelling tools, that are based on a sound representation of the underlying physical processes can provide valuable support in predicting how the hydrology of an area may look like in the future. Waterintellect's research tools provide scientific support in understanding and quantifying these impacts.

 

Effects of climate change



Greenhouse gas emissions cause the average temperature of the atmosphere to increase steadily, as stated by the Climate Assessment report of the IPCC (http://www.ipcc.ch/). Increased C02 concentration in the atmosphere has an impact on weather formation and on the meteorology. Frequency and annual average precipitation and temperature in a region could change with respect to the past. In hydrological terms this means that the mean annual quantity of water could either increase or decrease depending on a particular area. 

The assessment of the hydrology under changing climate requires scenario simulations performed with adequate simulation tools driven by a range of possible future weather scenarios. From a scientific perspective the coupling between climate and hydrology still remains an open question.