Nowcasting of river stage and velocity using LIDAR sensors: technological innovation to support responses to flood events


  • Technology-led research to develop new nowcasting equipment of river flow (velocity and water level)
  • Laboratory- and field-based trials of equipment
  • Field study site part of new instrumented catchment managed by JBA, which will be tied to existing infrastructure
  • High potential for impact by providing rapid information to inform responders and stakeholders during flood event


Forecasts are issued to help decision making in the run up to, and during, a flood event. A wide range of stakeholders utilise these flood forecasts, including the emergency services, flood planners in local authorities, water utilities and the Environment Agency. However, collecting real-time information on river height and velocity during a flood event is dangerous and limited by existing equipment. This technology innovation studentship aims to develop, test, and validate a novel large-scale particle imaging velocimetry (LSPIV) system to estimate surface water velocity during flood events. This will provide user-centric surface water nowcast information to better support risk management authorities in their responses to flooding from rivers and surface water drainage.

There is huge potential to improve the LSPIV technique by supplementing normal cameras with automotive scanning LIDAR sensors. The LIDAR will be used to generate a point cloud to scale the camera images. To generate accurate velocities from existing technology, each pixel has to be scaled to ensure it represents the dimensions captured within the image. This requires detailed geometric measurement of the field of view of the camera and image deformation to calibrate the image captured by the camera to reality. In order to convert the velocity estimates into discharge, an estimate of flow depth throughout the field of view is also required, which will be dynamic during a flood event. A LIDAR system could be deployed for both routine measurement of discharge (velocity and stage), and in reactive mode during flood events.

Aims and Objectives

This PhD studentship aims to develop an improved technique for the quantification of flood events and regular hydrometric monitoring. The PhD student will have opportunities to develop all aspects of this improved methodology and lead a series of fieldwork investigations to test the new measurement system including:

  • Undertaking a series of laboratory experiments to develop a new measurement technology.
  • Testing of combined scanning LIDAR and image capture system for measuring both flow velocity and stage.
  • Develop a new instrumented field site in conjunction with JBA.
  • Deploy the new instrumentation in field trials at a range of different river stages, potentially using the instrumented catchment at Broughton Hall.

Potential for high impact outputs

The PhD integrates recent advances in both imaging and LIDAR technology to make a step-change advance in hydrometric measurements. For the first time, it will be possible to make areally extensive measurements of both flow velocity and water stage. It is expected that this research will generate high quality (4 star) research papers that have significant impact within the field. Also there is the potential for rapid adoption of this new technology by the hydrometric community through improved accuracy of discharge measurements to calculate incremental discharges downstream.


This PhD will commence before the end of 2021 and run for 3.5 years. During this period, the student will be eligible for all the postgraduate training typically provided to students attending the University as part of the PANORAMA DTP. The PhD will provide an excellent training in state-of-the-art experimental and field based quantitative hydrodynamics, a key skill set for both future academic and industrial based employment. Research skills and impact will be supported by a supervisory team with leading expertise in experimental fluid dynamics, qualitative field work, environmental management and modelling of flood events. The PhD will benefit from access and training to use state-of-the-art equipment and facilities at the University of Leeds and the opportunity to undertake a placement with JBA.

Student Profile

A numerate student with a background in Geography, Earth Sciences or Civil Engineering related degree is sought. Expertise in laboratory fluid dynamics and / or field measurements is desired.