Reduced complexity strategies for modelling urban floodplain inundation

H. K. McMillan, James Brasington

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

115 Citations (SciVal)


Significant advances in flood inundation modelling have been made in the last decade through the use of a new generation of 2D hydraulic numerical models. These offer the potential to predict the local pattern and timing of flood depth and velocity, enabling informed flood risk zoning and improved emergency planning. With the availability of high resolution DEMs derived from airborne lidar, these models can theoretically now be routinely parameterized to represent considerable topographic complexity, even in urban areas where the potential exists to represent flows at the scale of individual buildings. Currently, however, computational constraints on conventional finite element and volume codes typically require model discretization at scales well below those achievable with lidar and are thus unable to make optimal use of this emerging data stream. In this paper we review two strategies that attempt to address this mismatch between model and data resolution in an effort to improve urban flood forecasts. The first of these strives for a solution by simplifying the mathematical formulation of the numerical model by using a computationally efficient 2D raster storage cell approach coupled to a 1D channel model. This parsimonious model structure enables simulations over large model domains offering the opportunity to employ a topographic discretization strategy which explicitly represents the built environment. The second approach seeks to further reduce the computational overhead of this raster method by employing a subgrid parameterization to represent the effect of buildings and micro-relief on flow pathways and floodplain storage. This multi-scale methodology enables highly efficient model applications at coarse spatial resolutions while retaining information about the complex geometry of the built environment. These two strategies are evaluated through numerical experiments designed to reconstruct a flood in the small town of Linton in southern England, which occurred in response to a 1 in 250 year rainfall event in October 2001. Results from both approaches are encouraging, with the spatial pattern of inundation and flood wave propagation matching observations well. Both show significant advantages over a coarse resolution model without subgrid parameterisation, particularly in terms of their ability to reproduce both hydrograph and inundation depth measurements simultaneously, without need for recalibration. The subgrid parameterization is shown to achieve this without contributing significant computational complexity and reduces model run-times by an order of magnitude.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)226-243
Number of pages18
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2007


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