09 November 2021

Torrential rain that causes flooding is bad enough, but if the floods cause landslides a disaster is looming. And how do you deal with forest fires that arise in not just one place but maybe two, three or four places – at the same time? These are examples of what a research project will be looking at.

Toibas Andersson Granberg and Viktor Sköld Gustafsson in Norrköpings industrial landscape..
Tobias Andersson Granbergand Viktor Sköld Gustafsson at Motala ström in Norrköping. Thor Balkhed

More frequent

Everyone remembers the dramatic images from Germany last summer, when torrential rain led to huge floods, with major financial damage and human suffering. Sweden was hit by several large forest fires in the summer of 2018, and 2021 has seen flooding that, while not as serious as in Germany, has nevertheless brought serious consequences.

“Climate change will make events of this type more frequent also in Sweden. At the same time, we have not come as far as many other countries that have a tradition of working with and planning for simultaneous extreme natural events. We have been rather shielded from such in Sweden”, says Viktor Sköld Gustafsson, PhD student working in the EMMUNE project.

Predict and combat

This project started in 2019 and will run until December 2024. Its principal question concerns how extreme multiple natural events can be predicted most accurately. Another focus is on how society can best counteract and combat them.

The first step in the work is a survey of scenarios in which several serious natural events occur in parallel or consecutively in a causal chain. Certain correlations are simple and straightforward, such as torrential rain leading to flooding and landslides, while others are indirect and complex.

“Some links arise rarely, but must be considered. We have seen, for example, that drought and fires can also increase the risk of landslides, and that the melting of glaciers can lead to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions”, says Viktor Sköld Gustafsson.

The initial survey will be followed by an interview study with personnel in the rescue services, among others, looking at how work at multiple natural events is currently conducted. The results will be summarised in a report to be published early in 2022, but some conclusions can already be drawn.

“We see that a systematic way of working with multiple natural events has not been established. There’s a lot of knowledge, but it is not collected and is thus not available for use in future scenarios”, says Viktor Sköld Gustafsson.

IVA's top 100

The final phase of the project will be to develop decision-support processes for the rescue services and other government agencies and organisations. These may be anything from simple guides to advanced simulation and optimisation programs. They can be used, for example, to set priorities for different initiatives, or determine how national resources are to be allocated.

“It’s not the case that things are working poorly at the moment, but there is always room for improvement”, says project manager Associate Professor Tobias Andersson Granberg, who gives a concrete example.

“Sweden has purchased firefighting airplanes, but we need to decide how they can be used as effectively as possible. In this case, it’s possible to imagine a fairly advanced program to determine such factors as the priority of different fires, flight times, and the duration of an operation.”

EMMUNE was included on the “100-list” for 2021 drawn up by the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences (IVA), which is a selection of research projects in Sweden that have been assessed as having a large potential of benefiting society. The project includes researchers from the Center for Advanced Research in Emergency Response (CARER) and the Centre for Climate Science and Policy Research (CSPR).

Translated by George Farrants


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