The Director of Cranfield University's National Soil Resources Institute today (27June) called for detailed investigations of ground conditions across the catchments of rivers that have flooded.
He believes that a better understanding of all the factors contributing to the flooding will help manage the impact of future extreme rainfall events.
"After the severe floods of November 1999" says Dick Thompson, NSRI Director "and with the help of the Environment Agency, we looked at the soils within affected catchments and found many to have poor structure.
"Soils were waterlogged on their surface but dry to five cm depth beneath and were not absorbing the rain falling on them. We recommended further field-based investigation to establish properly the link between field soil conditions and flooding.
"Seven years on", he continued "a field-based study has yet to be commissioned and damaging floods appear even more frequent."
Soil scientists at NSRI believe that the severity of the weather may only be part of the story. The majority of rain, probably 90%, falls on open countryside where the soil and vegetation absorb rainwater before it is discharged slowly to the river network.
Flooding occurs when the rainfall exceeds the ability of the land to absorb and retain it. Compact or 'capped' soils have much reduced infiltration capacities and rainfall runs off into the rivers more readily. This sort of uncontrolled run-off is a cause of local flash flooding. It needs to be established in detail whether such effects have contributed to the current floods.
The scientists believe that detailed investigation of the current ground conditions in flooded catchments is needed to fully understand why the flooding has been so severe and to identify what more can be done to alleviate the effects of future rainfall.
All relevant skills and knowledge should be applied to the control and management of flooding. An integrated approach to the use and management of land within catchments may hold at least part of the answer to managing flood risk in the future. NSRI believes that soil science has a valuable contribution to make to such a programme of work.