Flood impacts brought to life through science and technology

A team of scientists and academics from Lancaster University, JBA Trust and the Environment Agency attended the Manchester Science Festival on 21 October 2017 to raise awareness of the devastating risks and impacts posed by flooding.

The installation, based at the Museum of Science and Industry, aims to raise understanding of flood risk and help people think about what they would do if their homes and neighbourhoods were hit by flooding.

Heather Norton demonstrates how the AR Sandbox visualises topography and flooding at the Manchester Science Festival

Heather Norton from JBA Consulting demonstrates how the AR Sandbox helps visualise topography and flooding

Highlights of the ‘Flow’ installation included:

  • An augmented reality sandbox (photos above) that allows people to create their own landscapes by shaping the sand and then digitally ‘make it rain’ to explore how water flows in rivers and across the land. The interactive sandbox, built by the JBA Trust, helps visitors investigate how different interventions, such as building flood defences or planting trees, can affect flood risk.
  • A giant interactive team game of ‘snakes and ladders’ conveys the real-life experiences of flood-affected children, shedding light on the positive actions children take during crises that can be hidden when children are seen as vulnerable victims. The experiences were gathered as part of the ESRC research project Children, Young People and Flooding: Recovery and Resilience.
  • A writer-in-residence used a specially-created ‘Colossal Flood’ story dice to help people understand the risk of flooding, and the likelihood of large flood events. The multi-sided dice, inspired by traditional long dice, is a way of sharing stories about inland and coastal flooding.
  • A special flood box containing household items is the focus of a game that gets people thinking about the items they would need in the immediate, and longer-term, aftermath of their home being flooded.
  • A ‘flood resilience home’ gives people the chance to see what the new normal might look like by illustrating ideas for design features that would be included in future houses.

Liz Edwards, of Lancaster University’s School of Computing and Communications, and organiser of the Flow installation, said:

“Floods are major events that cause significant damage to property and infrastructure, but also have a huge long-lasting impact on lives and communities.  Across the North West, and even in the Greater Manchester area with the River Irwell, we have seen devastating flooding in recent years. Flow is a collaboration bringing together expertise from a range of academic disciplines to offer a very interactive and engaging experience for visitors to the Manchester Science Festival.   As well as communicating the power of floods, we aim to raise awareness and inform people about what they should be considering in order to make themselves more resilient in case floods affect their home or community.”

Manchester Science Festival 2017





Flow is organised by the Ensemble team at Lancaster University (www.ensembleprojects.org), a group of cross-disciplinary researchers looking at the role of technology in supporting our understanding of the natural environment. Funding for the installation comes from the EPSRC’s Senior Fellowship awarded to Prof. Gordon Blair on Digital Technology and Living with Environmental Change (grant reference EP/P002285/1).