Austrians watch flood waters by computer

The potential effect of flood waters can now be assessed more quickly, due to a new feature for Visdom, a Visual Analysis System which can be used to make faster decisions regarding flood defences at times of severe flooding.

The development, was made possible by funding from the Austrian Science Fund FWF, among other sources, and is now published in the IEEE journal Transactions on visualization and computer graphics.

The software was designed by a team headed by Professor Eduard Gröller and Dr Jürgen Waser at the Austrian company, VRVis Forschungs which specialises in visual computing. Visdom is a joint research initiative that investigates visualisation, simulation, and analysis techniques to assist decision-making. Its most prominent application is flood management.

The Visdom software system, does not require a computing centre, but can be used on handheld devices directly at the flood locations. This innovation enables emergency services to use the scarce time and computer resources at their disposal more efficiently, resulting in improved protection measures.

Complex computations can tie up valuable resources, especially in crisis situations where time is of the essence. Consequently, Professor Gröller's team at VRVis developed the new feature for Visdom to alleviate this pressure.

Professor Gröller said: ‘It is a fact that many simulations reach unacceptable values for certain parameters long before they have completed their run. In this case, further computations are no longer expedient. But recognising these values – in stressful crisis situations – is a great challenge. This is why we have developed so-called Run Watchers.’

Gröller continued: ‘Run Watchers are predefined criteria that are automatically applied to each time step of the simulation. Values remaining below are signalled by a green or yellow colour code. If the critical value is reached, Run Watchers issue a red colour signal. At the same time, it is possible to terminate the run of this simulation automatically.’

A specific scenario would be to compute the impact of a flood barrier on the surrounding water level, for example. It is important here to compute the expected course of the flood over hours or days. If the simulation shows that this particular barrier is being negatively impacted, after only a few hours of simulated time, this is signalled immediately by the corresponding Run Watcher.

In developing the Run Watchers, Gröller's team not only relied on theoretical considerations in their computations, but collaborated closely with the Flood Control Centre in Cologne and the Institute of Hydraulic Engineering and Water Resources Management at the Vienna University of Technology, headed by Professor Günter Blöschl who was the winner of the 2013 International Hydrology Prize.

As Dr Jürgen Waser, coordinator and Senior Scientist of the Visdom project, commented: ‘Experts in flood management provided us with constructive and critical feedback on our development. The system overall was considered to be very helpful. There were suggestions as to how certain visualisations could be optimised to summarise possible decision options. These will now be implemented.’

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