The Cabot Institute at the University of Bristol carries out fundamental and responsive research on living with environmental uncertainty and risk. Interests include natural hazards, resilience and governance, food and energy security, and the changing urban environment. Cabot Institute research fuses rigorous statistical and numerical modelling with a deep understanding of interconnected social, environmental and engineered systems – past, present and future. The Cabot Institute seeks to engage wider society – listening to, exploring with, and challenging its stakeholders to develop a shared response to 21st Century challenges.
Flood Risk Management is currently a key focus of many national and international research programmes with flooding from rivers, estuaries and the sea posing a serious threat to millions of people around the world during a period of extreme climate variability. Over 12% of the population of the United Kingdom live on fluvial flood plains or areas identified as being subject to the risk of coastal flooding and about half the population of The Netherlands live below mean sea level. In Hungary about 25% of the population live on the floodplain of the River Danube and its tributaries.
Sponsored by the Engineering and Physical Research Council (EPSRC) under Grant EP/FO20511/1, with additional funding from the Environment Agency, Defra, the Northern Ireland Rivers Agency and the Office of Public Works (OPW), Dublin, the Flood Risk Management Research Consortium (FRMRC), was originally launched in February 2004. This innovative joint funding arrangement allows the Consortium to combine the strengths of fundamental and near-market researchers and research philosophies in a truly multi-disciplinary programme.
The FRMRC has been formulated to address key issues in flood science and engineering, and the portfolio of research includes the short-term delivery of tools and techniques to support more accurate flood forecasting and warning, improvements to flood management infrastructure and reduction of flood risk to people, property and the environment.
The Willis Research Network is the world's largest partnership between academia and the insurance industry. The focus is on evaluating the frequency, severity and impact of extreme events and helping society at local and global scales manage these risks and share the costs of major catastrophes via public and private sector approaches.
The Willis Research Network (WRN) supports open academic research and publishing, the development of new risk models and applications, and an active programme of meetings and collaboration. The ethos is to provide an open forum for the development of the science and the WRN actively works with insurers, reinsurers, catastrophe modelling companies, government research institutions and non-governmental organisations.
Jonathan Rougier, a statistician in the Department of Mathematics, is working with avalanche scientists in Austria and Switzerland to tune these models to historical avalanche data and to develop methods to include uncertainty in the predictions.
The size and speed of an avalanche, and its destructive potential, depend not just on the local topography, but also on the environmental conditions under which the snowpack formed. For avalanche prediction, sophisticated computer models combine environmental and geographic information to predict avalanche probabilities, run-out, and depth.
J.C. Rougier and M. Kern (2008), Predicting Snow Velocity in Large Chute Flows Under Different Environmental Conditions. Available as a pdf file.
Parasites are a major constraint on animal health and production worldwide, and their control is increasingly challenging as a result of the evolution of drug resistance. To preserve antiparasitic drug efficacy and hence support the sustainability of existing livestock production systems, targeted rather than blanket treatment is necessary. Such targeted selective treatment (TST) systems are difficult to apply because in leaving some animals untreated, there is a risk of disease and production loss. This can be reduced by using information from diagnostic markers as well as forecasting of disease challenge using climate-based epidemiological models. Research by BRISK members seeks to develop these models and increase their applicability to end users, for example by delivery to farmers remote from animal health services using mobile phone technology (in collaboration with the University of Pretoria, South Africa). Effective decision support systems are most needed in less developed countries, where the low affordability of drugs, lack of professional animal health support, high prevalence of antiparasitic drug resistance, and very pathogenic parasite species mean that the failure of current control methods is especially punitive.
(Photo: FAMACHA©: a diagnostic indicator for targeted treatment. Jan van Wyk, University of Pretoria.)
Active volcanoes threaten 500 million people and vulnerability is increasing due to population growth, globalisation and increasing environmental stresses. The VOLDIES project, funded by a 5 year (2009-2014) advanced European Research Council grant to Professor RSJ Sparks FRS, aims to increase our understanding of societal risk and reduce the vulnerability of communities. The project will investigate how volcanoes work, focussing on the nature and dynamics of magma chambers; construct a global database on volcanic hazards and risk; and develop new approaches to assessment of volcanic risk.
The magma chamber is the fundamental control on the behaviour of most volcanoes, and so an advance in understanding of their physical nature and behaviour affects almost every other aspect of volcano behaviour and phenomena. Integrated models of the formation and behaviour of magma chambers will be take account of heat transfer, crustal deformation, magma properties, and internal chamber processes. Volcano behaviour will be investigated in terms of magma flows from chambers to the Earth’s surface. The models will be informed by and tested against geophysical, geochemical and observational data at selected volcanoes and igneous intrusions characterised by superb datasets. An integrated model of magma chambers will improve interpretations of geophysical data and understanding of hazardous volcanic phenomena, such as debris avalanches, pyroclastic flows and lahars. The project will create a global database on volcanic eruptions, their hazards and key risk factors (such as population density), which will be analysed to provide robust data for hazard and risk assessment at global, regional and local scales. New methods of probabilistic risk assessment will be developed, which combine hard and soft data, take account of uncertainties and integrate information on vulnerability and hazard. The research will include a study of risk perception as a key factor in vulnerability by comparing communities in different volcanic settings and across cultures.
Approximately 500 million people live close enough to active volcanoes to be affected and threatened when they erupt. The consequences can be loss of life, social disruption and economic losses. Very large volcanic eruptions, although rare, have the potential to cause national, regional and, in extreme cases, global catastrophe. The objectives of VOGRIPA are to create a global database of volcanic activity, hazards and vulnerability information that can be analysed to identify locations at high risk from volcanism, gaps in knowledge about hazards and risk, and will allow scientists and disaster managers at specific locations to analyse risk within a global context of systematic information. The VOGRIPA project will also develop new approaches to volcanic risk assessment, volcanic crisis management, and applying science to increase community resilience.
VOGRIPA is officially endorsed as a project of the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior (IAVCEI) and by the Commission for Explosive Volcanism of IAVCEI. It is an international partnership of several institutions and is being led and co-ordinated by Professor Stephen Sparks FRS in the Department of Earth Sciences at University of Bristol. The Smithsonian Institute is a major partner and there is collaboration with University of Canterbury (New Zealand), the Geological Survey of Japan, and the newly formed Earth Observatory of Singapore.
VOGRIPA originated as part of the Global Risk Identification Programme (GRIP) that is being co-ordinated from the Earth Institute of Columbia University under the auspices of the United Nations and World Bank. GRIP is a five-year programme aiming at improving global knowledge about risk from natural hazards and is part of the international response to the Asian tsunami. VOGRIPA started in 2005 with modest resources. Munich Re generously provided support in this early stage. A research grant from the European Research Council to Bristol University now provides resources from January 2009 for 5 years.
VOGRIPA has been divided into four tasks:
Tasks 1 and 2 are partly funded principally through the European Research Council funds.