RESEARCHERS from Bangor University are working with Gwynedd Council to develop an advanced visual analytics tool to model the impact of land use change on river hydrology and provide valuable insights.

Researchers from the Schools of Natural Sciences and Computer Science and Electronic Engineering at Bangor University, in collaboration with Gwynedd Council’s consultancy arm Ymgynghoriaeth Gwynedd Consultancy (YGC), have developed a new decision support toolkit, the ‘Land Use Change SWAT+ Toolkit’.

This is to help improve the planning and management of flood alleviation schemes in Gwynedd, which has the potential to be rolled out further afield.

Alex Rigby, who helped developed the toolkit, said: “Gwynedd has experienced multiple occurrences of high flood events, and consequent economic damage, in the recent past.

“However, past approaches to flood alleviation have not fully accounted for the complexity of hydrological processes that occur in a catchment.

“For example, the presence, and spatial configuration, of land use features, such as forests, agricultural land, or built-up environment, have a major influence on the flood response of a river to large storm events.

“Understanding how this flood response might alter when land use change occurs in a catchment requires the use of physics-based hydrological models.

“Unfortunately, these models often have cumbersome and non-intuitive user interfaces, which limits their usability as a decision support tool for engineering teams, regulatory agencies and local authorities.”

The ‘Land Use Change SWAT+ Toolkit’ (LUCST) addresses this issue by combining a widely-used hydrological model called the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT+) with advanced visual analytics that simplify the end user experience.

The toolkit allows end users to specify, through a Graphical User Interface (GUI), various types of land use change scenarios in a catchment and then quantifies their hydrological impacts by interacting with the hydrological model.

More importantly, the toolkit does not require the end user to have a detailed operational knowledge of the underlying hydrological model.

The toolkit has been trialled with experts from Gwynedd Council, and is now an integral part of their workflow for the development of future flood alleviation schemes as well as other infrastructure projects.

The toolkit is also under consideration for deployment by the Snowdonia National Park Authority.

Alex added: “It has been a pleasure and an amazing experience working on this project.

“Working with both the School of Natural Sciences and Computer Science and Electronic Engineering at Bangor, in particular Dr Peter Butcher, I have developed skills I could only have dreamt of having.

“And the opportunity to apply those skills in an impactful way has been great bonus to my time at Bangor University.”

Dr Sopan Patil from the School of Natural Sciences, and Alex’s lead supervisor, said: “Understanding how land use, and changes to it, affect the hydrological processes in river basins is critical for flood alleviation.

“LUCST, as a decision support tool, offers a significant improvement in the ease with which the flood risk arising from different land use scenarios can be tested.

“Our collaboration with the visualisation experts in the School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering has been crucial in ensuring that this toolkit is intuitive and user-friendly”.

Dr Panagiotis Ritsos from the School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering, who co-supervised Alex and Pete, added: “Here in the School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering, we relish the opportunity to use our expertise in designing and building visual analytics interfaces for such impactful use cases.

“We hope that this tool, and more to come in the future, will improve the quality of life of our community.

“Our work can often seems obscure to audiences from other disciplines, so we never pass up on the chance to demonstrate what can be done!”

Councillor Catrin Wager, Gwynedd Council cabinet member with responsibility for the Council’s YGC department, said: “I am pleased we have been able to collaborate with Bangor University on this project, which will enable us to have a better understanding of the impact future land changes will have on flood risk.

“Our aim in the future will be to tackle flood risk in a more sustainable way that will also enhance our environment, and we look forward to using this new tool to help us identify solutions in each of our catchments.

“Being able to utilise academic expertise to create a research project that responds to our needs, is a fantastic opportunity to demonstrates the value of having the University on our doorstep, and this project will bring real benefit to the residents of Gwynedd and their property into the future.”

Alex’s research is funded by Ymgynghoriaeth Gwynedd Consultancy (YGC) and Knowledge Economy Skills Scholarships (KESS 2), a pan-Wales higher level skills initiative led by Bangor University on behalf of the higher education sector in Wales.

It is part-funded by the Welsh Government’s European Social Fund (ESF) convergence programme for West Wales and the Valleys.