Millions of people live near Asia's large rivers, the majority in poor communities that rely on subsistence farming. Climate change means these regions are increasingly vulnerable to flooding and erosion, putting livelihoods - and lives - at risk. Our researchers are working to understand the effect of climate change on rivers in order to benefit the people who rely on them.
Academics from the Earth Surface Dynamics Research Group in Geography and Environment, working alongside colleagues in the University's GeoData Institute, are involved in a number of major projects in this area. One study has mapped flood risk in relation to the distribution of the population around the Brahamaputra in north eastern India.
Dr Craig Hutton of the University's GeoData Institute says: "Changing rates of glacial melt in the Himalayas and variations in the intensity of the monsoon are affecting the risk of flooding in southern and south east Asia. Our focus in this work has been on evaluating the resulting socio-economic impact on the region's vulnerable agricultural communities."
The team's successful work on the Brahmaputra has also led to a project to advise on erosion and flooding along the Indus, following the catastrophic floods in Pakistan in 2010. Funded by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, the project's aim is to identify areas at risk of severe erosion so that they can be managed to reduce the impact on rural populations, and is led by Professors Paul Carling, Steve Darby and David Sear of Geography and Environment.
Steve explains: "Much of the catastrophic 2010 flooding was caused by bank erosion breaching the flood embankments. We will be using remote sensing and state-of-the-art modelling to identify areas at risk of future erosion to help optimise the reconstruction of these defences."
A third project, one element of a major consortium funded through the Natural Environment Research Council's Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation programme, is studying river systems in the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta in Bangladesh to help manage and mitigate flood risk as part of a study in poverty alleviation through ecosystem services.
The Mekong river has been the focus of a series of projects led by Paul and Steve with funding from the Mekong River Commission and the Natural Environment Research Council. Studies of the long-term evolution of the river aim to provide a foundation from which current environmental and climate-related issues can be better understood and resolved. A particular issue concerns man-made changes to the riverscape.
Paul explains: "There are huge water resource issues in the region, and the development of a cascade of dams along the Mekong is planned. We are now looking at the effect of the dams on the river's behaviour and the associated impacts on those who live along its banks."