Improving UK flood resilience by smart satellite tasking and rapid modelling

In News by ambrisk

Improving UK flood resilience by smart
satellite tasking and rapid modelling


During the UK’s stormy winter flooding Ambiental was leading an innovative research project under the UK Space Agency’s Space for Smarter Government Programme (SSGP). This article outlines the project’s achievements and links to a video recording and presentation slides from the recent SSGP event in London.

Prior to the winter floods a challenge was set by the Environment Agency to improve the quality, timeliness and distribution of satellite derived flood data. Ambiental was involved in two successful projects which successfully captured meaningful data and demonstrated it was possible to improve flood resilience though smarter integration of technologies.

A five-month project was awarded to assist emergency responders, loss adjusters, (re)insurers and infrastructure managers to improve flood response and better focus risk reduction, resilience and adaptation efforts. Ambiental’s satellite enabled solution aimed to apply it’s UKFloodMap powered hazard and risk analysis data tools to identify locations with high potential of flooding. This was combined with the spatial pattern of buildings and people to produce a UK Flood Risk Priority Map.

The UK Flood Risk Priority Map was utilised to select a satellite frame which covers the primary flood alert targets and frames a scene which can deliver the most data value to end users. A tasking instruction is then relayed to a satellite which is enabled to capture the right location at the right time.


Flooding is predictable to the degree that it results from inputs of rainfall, weather and natural cycles. These inputs are monitored and forecasts are created from which it is possible to model the potential for floods occurring. The UK is at the forefront of this technology. The project team integrated existing open data feeds of rainfall and river telemetry. Ambiental also engaged with the Flood Forecasting Centre to scope out the integration of their Flood Guidance Statement as an activation trigger for the smart tasking system.

Ambiental worked in close calibration with satellite technology partner Telespazio Vega UK on both projects. The COSMO-SkyMed constellation was tasked to capture Synthetic Aperture Radar of Carlisle during flood conditions for analysis. When the SAR data was downlinked to the ground it was rapidly assimilated through an image processing and a geographic information system workflow. The compiled end products are then ready to be relayed seamlessly via web mapping servers to central Cabinet Office, to local Category 1 responders and to multiple other recipients including (re)insurance industry customers.

Both projects demonstrated that it was possible to improve data processing techniques and extract flood extents using SAR satellite imagery which are informed by robust hydrological modelling. It was established that this could be done within timescales which were viable for the end users. Through stakeholder engagement it qualified a viable UK and global market for the end products. It is hoped that with continued research these system can be implemented in the UK and internationally to save lives and protect property as nations become more resilient to the threat of flooding.

For further information please refer to the SSGP project page and watch the video below which showcases the resilience project and is presented by Ambiental’s Managing Director Justin Butler and GIS / Data Manager Paul Drury. The slides from this presentation are also available for download. Follow these links for video and presentation slides from the other Telespazio led National Flood project which Ambiental supported. For details of the other projects showcased at the SSGP event click here and for additional details on flood early warning systems refer to the Ambiental website.

Ambiental would like to thank SSGP, the UK Space Agency and the Satellite Applications Catapult for enabling this project and for promoting UK innovations in flood science through the use of space based technology. We would like to also extend thanks to Telespazio and the numerous other stakeholders who contributed to achieving the successful outcomes of both projects.

About the Author

Paul Drury is the GIS Data Manager at Ambiental. His role includes project management of production operations and reporting back to stakeholders. He also oversees the preparation, integration and quality assurance checking of data assets. Paul is an expert in GIS and data analysis with a developed understanding of the environmental data industry and underlying technical concepts. He has a BSc (hons) in Environmental Sciences from the University of Brighton.

Paul Drury
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