July 30, 2018

Making the most of bedload: passive sensing and open data to manage for flood risk resilience and biodiversity gain.

The following is the text of an article due to be published in Sphere magazine, Autumn 2018.

Understanding bedload transport in rivers is fundamental to managing for river resilience, avoiding flood risk and promoting biodiversity. Recent developments in passive monitoring equipment now make low-cost, long-term collection of high-resolution bedload data possible and, with it, comes the potential for transforming our understanding of how rivers function.

The 2018 Sustainable Earth Institute (SEI) Creative Associate Award enabled collaboration between Dr. Peter Downs, University of Plymouth, Dr. Philip Soar, University of Portsmouth, Plymouth-based open data firm The Data Place, and the creative technology company Controlled Frenzy. The project has developed an open data platform for storing, interrogating and visualising high-resolution bedload data, using an initial data set from Devon’s River Avon. The Avon data encompasses five water years, making it probably the world’s longest continuously monitored bedload dataset from a portable monitoring station.

The project focused on accelerating the uptake and use of bedload data by researchers and practitioners through discussions leading to the development of an interactive portal for sharing, manipulating and creatively visualising such data. An interdisciplinary workshop to publicize the project was held in May 2018. The workshop bought together researchers and river management professionals representing regulators, water utilities, local authorities and the third sector: Peter Downs explained why understanding bedload is important for managing flood risk and biodiversity; The Data Place discussed the value of open and shareable data; and Controlled Frenzy demonstrated ways of visualising and using the initial data. The workshop gave participants the opportunity to discuss and share ideas for taking advantage of this newly available bedload data resource and to make recommendations on how to maximise the benefits of an open data platform – there was considerable interest in how contributing ‘local’ data to a shared resource potentially creates a much greater impact during a time of dwindling budgets for project monitoring.

The Data Place is hosting the SEI project bedload data and associated sediment transport model on a dedicated cloud-based open data infrastructure -with an associated site for posting blogs and new visualisations. Over time we hope to reach researchers with similar data sets and encourage them to host their data on the website. This project has introduced a new way for academics, river management practitioners and creative technologists to collaborate. We hope that the benefits of data sharing and the development of new visualisations will improve the use and understanding of this important new data resource and encourage the development of similar networks of data on natural resource topics.

Social enterprise The Data Place brings together infrastructure, data skills, human-centred design and open source development to help people and places get the most from data.

Chris Hunt of Controlled Frenzy develops digital, data-rich products enabling public and private sector clients to grow and adapt to new ways of working, communicating and doing business.


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