NRFA Review of the Year: 2015/2016

The UK Surface and Groundwater Archives Committee convened for its 33rd annual meeting at CEH’s Wallingford Headquarters on Wednesday 2nd March.

The Committee comprises representatives of organisations from across the UK involved in the measurement, management or use of hydrometric data. This year’s meeting was attended by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Environment Agency, Natural Resources Wales, NERC, the British Hydrological Society, Met Office, Canal and Rivers Trust, British Geological Survey and representatives of the water industry. Amongst the items discussed at this year’s meeting was a review of the activities of the NRFA over the last 12 months.

As normal the NRFA’s activities have included updating and ongoing maintenance of the nation’s central database for hydrometric data.  Ensuring that the archive is up-to-date involves an intensive programme of year round work to quality control new data before it is added to the archive and make corrections and updates to existing data. The NRFA’s core Daily Mean Flow dataset alone was subject to over 500,000 updates and changes in the last 12 months.

Other activities over the last year include a visit by NRFA staff to South East Scotland in May to undertake a Hydrometric Data Audit (HDA) in the region. The objective of the Audits is to maximise the utility of our data and, over time, enhance the strategic capability of the UK gauging station network.

In October 2015, a report was published assessing the economic impact of the NRFA’s peak flow database. The report concluded the dataset delivers more than £5m per annum net benefit to the UK flood risk assessments sector. Over a 25-year term, it equates to a net present value of £95 million, according to the report author, Richard Blackmore of Research Impact Consulting.

2015/2016 saw the launch of a new NRFA website which maintains consistency and styling with the CEH website, but allows greater control over content, such as the integration of news stories and social media. The NRFA website continues to be well used by users requiring flow data and gauging station information with over 9,700 downloads in the last year. An increase in data requests was seen across the research, commercial and private individual sectors. The largest increase in the number of enquires was in the research sector (3.9%). This sector continues to represent the largest proportion of enquires however, the commercial sector is also steadily increasing.

A new gauging station search tool was launched in October 2015 providing new features, including: a range of basemaps and the ability to display and export a wide range of metadata (such as basic station information, flow statistics and FEH catchment descriptors).

The NRFA also released (in February 2016) an expanded data download facility which allows users to access data from all the gauging stations held on the national archive. The full station data release means river flow records for around 1,500 gauging stations totalling 59,000 years’ of daily data are now available to download directly from the NRFA website.

The National Hydrological Monitoring Programme (NHMP), operated jointly by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and British Geological Survey has continued to publish our monthly Hydrological Summaries for the UK as well as reporting on the 2015/2016 winter floods. Members of the NHMP team released a briefing note a few days after the flooding, and produced a short paper on Storm Desmond in Weather with the Met Office (now published in the February edition).

The NRFA also published a report titled, “Derivation of the UK National and Regional Runoff series” which assessed the importance of these datasets. They are regularly featured in NHMP reports in order to assess the exceptional nature of extreme hydrological episodes. The report concluded the national runoff series are considered a strategically important resource for indexing change – in circumstances where the impact of global warming on flood and drought risk across the UK remains high on both scientific and political agendas.

Looking forward, Dr Harry Dixon, Head of the NRFA commented, “2015/2016 has been a successful year for the NRFA, with a number of important outputs and update to our services. Our plans for the next 12 months were discussed at this week’s meeting of the UK Surface and Groundwater Archives Committee and include launching a number of new developments designed to further improve access to our data and help users understand the UK freshwater environment.”