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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER)
Cycle 4 (2015 Deadline)

Can drought and flood hazard be skillfully assessed at fine spatial resolution from combining constrained streams of observed, remotely sensed and model predicted data in Sri Lanka and the Maldives?

PI: Piyasena Wickramagamage (pwickramagamage@gmail.com), Foundation for Environment, Climate and Technology
U.S. Partner: Randall Koster, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Project Dates: October 2016 - September 2018

Project Overview

Studies of the utility of drought and flood hazard indices indicate that a thorough depiction of hazard risks requires combined analysis of the co-variation of multiple meteorological and terrestrial variables such as rainfall, runoff, and soil moisture conditions. Current hazard estimations do not objectively combine separate indicators into an overall assessment of hazard risks and the impacts of climate variability. In countries such as Sri Lanka and Maldives there are severe constraints on real-time data availability. Such shortfalls can impair the reliability of and access to real-time hazard assessments if based entirely on one source of data. Freely available data from satellite estimates for soil moisture and prediction products from NASA and NOAA can be very useful, and field testing their accuracy in tropical locations should also help in validating them. This project will involve expanding, testing, and implementing a hazard analysis framework for combining multiple terrestrial indicators to estimate the probability of drought and floods. This work builds on studies of hazards, climate and land surface modeling, and disasters previously completed by the research team, some of it in cooperation with the U.S. Government-supported partner.

Sri Lanka is densely populated with high spatial variability in climate and high vulnerability to disasters. Recent droughts have led to drops in economic growth and losses in livelihoods. Floods are a leading causes of loss in life from natural disasters of the population of 21 million. In 2014, a severe drought emergency up to September was followed by flood emergency from till December. The Maldives is a country made up of almost 1,200 small islands, and their isolated location, size, and storage limitations leave the population of 350,000 vulnerable to drought risk. In recent years, there has been more frequent drought and increasing groundwater contamination. Although, climate variability and its impacts on hazards are of critical importance in both countries, the scientific understanding is not equal to the risk, and available information is not adequately accessed. Major policy decisions and large projects related to hazard are being undertaken without a robust basis in current science. The development-related objective of this project is to build integrated assessment, monitoring, and prediction capabilities for natural hazards that will be useful for decision makers. In Sri Lanka, the team will instrument two sites for measuring soil moisture, river levels, and ground water and provide water scarcity assessments to the Water Management Services Panel, building on a weekly climate advisory already provided to this panel. In the Maldives, the focus will be on drought and groundwater assessments, which will be conducted in liason with the Meteorological and Water Supply Services, hydrologists, and instrumentation specialists. The project team will undertake field measurements of meteorology, soil moisture, and the groundwater lens in two regions.

Summary of Recent Events

There was a major weather event during the second quarter of 2016 that impacted both the Maldives and Sri Lanka and lasted from May 15 – 19. The rainfall was particularly severe in several islands leading to flooding during this period. There were no fatalities in the Maldives and the team continued to provide information on climate monitoring and predictions monthly in the Maldives via website, blog, Facebook and Twitter. The weather pattern caused much more devastation in Sri Lanka and resulted in flooding and landslides across Western Sri Lanka and approximately 200 deaths and tens of thousands homeless. The death toll exceeded than 100 for certain – the numbers are still not determined, which highlights the need for projects of this type. This disaster led the team to upgrade their analysis and communicate more frequently on social media. Their predictions had anticipated the heavy rainfall and this information had been passed on in social media with the team reporting on the climate and weather factors surrounding the disaster.
 

4-463 Mudslide 14-463 Mudslide 24-463 Mudslide Visit
Heavy rainfalls resulted in devastating landslides in Sri Lanka. The team's models had predicted the weather event and the team visited the location afterwards to meet with local officials (photo credit: Dr. Wickramagamage).

Most of the deaths were in a place known as Aranayaka, which is in between Akurana and Colombo, another epicenter of the flooding. The team used this extreme event as an opportunity to cross calibrate its weather instruments with those of others who undertook similar studies in the vicinity and initiated the installation of a weather station in Aranayaka. The team is undertaking a review of the floods in Akurana and landslides at Aranayaka. They have provided a revised road map for reducing flood risks in Akurana to civil society and to the parliamentary representative for the region. The team also canvassed local government and central government officials concerned with disasters, surveying, and river basin management.

Eight staff members, headed by the PI, undertook a review visit to Aranayake after the roads opened. They plan to set up the above mentioned weather station close to an area where the landslide occurred. The team prepared designs for the installation of the station and a site was identified and agreements obtained. A review of the geophysical factors was drafted by the PI and the Co-PI has reviewed the weather and hydrological data with a view to publishing.

Another key event in this quarter was the visit by PI Wickramagamage) and Co-PI Zubair) to the Maldives for project work. They were able to engage with co-PI Dr. Zahid of the Maldives Meteorological Service on reviewing the project and planning ahead. They also met with the staff at the Maldives National University, Maldives Meteorological Services, Maldives Land Survey Authority, Environmental Protection Authority, and Ministry of Environment, as well as conducted a workshop on GIS techniques and climate for 60 students in environmental management and and information technology programs at the Maldives National University. Additionally, a review meeting was held with the Director-General of Meteorology and other senior officials to discuss ongoing coral bleaching and a meeting with the Director of Water Resources in the Ministry of Environment (Ms. Shaheeda Adam) led to a request that the PI assist their staff in setting up a GIS system and training them.

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