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Research themes

The department of Water and Climate Risk

The research in the department is broadly organised according to three themes.

Below an overview

Research themes

  • Climate extremes, attribution and forecasting

    In our climate extremes research, we use state-of-the-art climate models and innovative data-driven methods to develop customised tools (‘climate services’) to assess extreme weather risks. We focus on how climate variability and change affect the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events like heat waves, extreme rainfall and persistent drought. We use machine learning techniques like causal discovery and interpretable AI to understand the physical processes leading to such extreme weather events. This enables us to develop skilful seasonal to sub-seasonal (S2S) forecasts and to assess long-term climate risks. S2S forecasting is an increasingly important topic aiming at building effective early warning and early action programs. For future risk assessments, we develop and apply ‘Future Weather’ and ‘Storylines’ concepts to support the interpretation of climate risk information by decision-makers.

    We integrate fundamental climate research on extreme weather with research on societal risks, opportunities and adaptation options. Examples of our climate extremes projects are:

    • Project XAIDA : detection and attribution of extreme weather events
    • In project IMPRINT, we aim at improving S2S forecasts for droughts and heatwaves 
    • The TiPES: tipping points, early warning signals, meteorological extremes over the Mediterranean basin
    • The PERSIST project; persistent summer droughts, agriculture, and the role of global warming
    • Projects using climate modelling and climate data to simulate hydrological extremes, such as floods and droughts in the past in a paleo climate context 
    • Forecast-Based Financing (FBF) to mitigate disasters in Africa 
    • Project RECEIPT develops storylines of agricultural crop risks under climate change
  • Flood, drought and multi-risk assessment

    Our research on Flood, Drought and Multi-risk focuses on interactions between natural hazards and society to understand risk processes. We develop and use state of the art datasets and models for assessing flood and drought risk on local to global scales to increase our process understanding and to assess the effectiveness of disaster risk reductions solutions. Besides flood and droughts, we developed risk assessment models for other natural hazards, including wildfires, heatwaves, wind storms, and hail . We also assess compound / consecutive events and multi-hazard risk from a systemic perspective, across different sectors. 

    Examples of our flood and drought risk projects are:

    Examples of our multi-risk projects are:

    • MYRIAD-EU: multi-risk decision-making in Europe
    • In the PERFECT STORM project: multi-risk effect of combined floods and droughts
    • In Connect4WR flood and drought management in southern Africa 
    • In a project for the World Bank, we analyse drought-flood events in East Africa
  • Socio-hydrological feedbacks and risk management

    Our Risk Management and Climate Adaptation research focuses on developing and evaluating disaster risk reduction (DRR) measures and builds on our Climate Extremes and Flood, Drought & Multi-risk simulations. A focus area is to assess the dynamics in vulnerability and adaption and to address the feedbacks between the physical water system and societal responses (Socio-Hydrological feedbacks). A key tool for simulating these feedbacks is agent-based modelling (ABM), which allows us to analyse individual adaptive decisions, and interactions between stakeholders in risk management. Important for   developing ABMs is the cooperation with social scientists and economists for gathering empirical field data, for understanding decision processes underlying risk management and policy. We also apply the adaptation pathway approach, to support a participatory process with stakeholders to develop adaptation strategies and to address uncertainty in future climate change scenarios.  

    Examples of our risk management & adaptation projects are: