How much physical complexity is needed to model flood inundation?

JC Neal, I Villanueva, N Wright, T Willis, TJ Fewtrell, PD Bates

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

129 Citations (Scopus)


Two-dimensional flood inundation models are widely used tools for flood hazard mapping and an essential component of statutory flood risk management guidelines in many countries. Yet, we still do not know how much physical complexity a flood inundation model needs for a given problem. Here, three two-dimensional explicit hydraulic models, which can be broadly defined as simulating diffusive, inertial or shallow water waves, have been benchmarked using test cases from a recent Environment Agency for England and Wales study, where results from industry models are also available. To ensure consistency, the three models were written in the same code and share subroutines for all but the momentum (flow) and time-stepping calculations. The diffusive type model required much longer simulation times than the other models, whilst the inertia model was the quickest. For flows that vary gradually in time, differences in simulated velocities and depths due to physical complexity were within 10% of the simulations from a range of industry models. Therefore, for flows that vary gradually in time, it appears unnecessary to solve the full two-dimensional shallow water equations. As expected, however, the simpler models were unable to simulate supercritical flows accurately. Finally, implications of the results for future model benchmarking studies are discussed in light of a number of subtle factors that were found to cause significant differences in simulations relative to the choice of model. Copyright (c) 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Translated title of the contributionHow much physical complexity is needed to model flood inundation?
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2264-2282
Number of pages19
JournalHydrological Processes
Issue number15
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2012


  • simple models
  • hydraulic modelling
  • flood inundation
  • physical complexity
  • benchmarking

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