PLOTO partners under the spotlight: ULIEGE & SPW

The University of Liège (ULIEGE) and Service Public de Wallonie (SPW) are essential partners in the PLOTO consortium’s Belgian pilot site. ULIEGE contributes extensive research on fluvial dike breaching, while SPW provides data and expertise as the waterway operator. Discover more in detail about their contribution to the project by reading the interview.

What prompted your organisation to join the PLOTO consortium?

Wallonia has a dense network of waterways. Two-thirds of the traffic corresponds to import and export, making the Walloon waterways highly relevant internationally. They connect major ports, such as Antwerp and Rotterdam to the hinterland in Europe (France, Germany, etc.).

Extreme hydrological events tend to disrupt the operation of waterways in Wallonia, including in the Meuse and Albert Canal which were selected as one of the study sites in the PLOTO project (Use Case C). During low flow periods, the flow rate in the Meuse may drop to one-tenth of its mean value, as the Meuse catchment is primarily rainfed. This has happened on a regular basis over the last summers. Low flows force the authorities to reduce the number of lock operations to save water. This slows down navigation. During high flows and floods, navigation is also interrupted. Floods of unprecedented severity were experienced during the summer of 2021, after three years of prolonged summer drought. During the 2021 flood, dikes along the Albert Canal were nearly overtopped. This has triggered more attention towards assessing the potential danger induced by hypothetical dike breaching scenarios.

At the University of Liege, fundamental research on understanding and modelling the breaching of fluvial dikes has been undertaken for about a decade. Detailed reduced-scale laboratory experiments were conducted, in which an advanced laser profilometry technique was used to monitor the spatial evolution of the breach. Data collected in these lab experiments are of unique value for validating computational models of direct use for the PLOTO project. It also provides an opportunity to transfer academic research outcomes to practice.

How do the objectives of the PLOTO project fit in with the priorities and strategies of your company?

Assessing the risk associated with the breaching of fluvial dikes is a priority of the research program of the group HECE at the University of Liege. It is also on the research agenda of the department of Urban & Environmental Engineering which focuses, among others, on the resilience of construction. The water authority SPW has defined a Regional Strategy on Mobility covering the mobility of persons and goods. The project objectives match some aspects of this strategy.

Tell us about the role of your company in this project.

SPW is the operator of the waterways located in the study site considered for the PLOTO project. As such, SPW provides access to data, shares expertise and provides feedback on the modelling outputs. Data made available by SPW include times series of precipitation and flow rate, characteristics of the hydraulics structures (e.g., weirs, dikes …) and pictures of dikes systematically collected by a ship-borne system.

The University of Liège contributes to data analysis and develops dike breach modelling modules, which they couple with inundation models of various levels of complexity. Detailed inundation models will be run to serve as a basis for the calibration and validation of computationally-efficient surrogate models complying with the requirements of the envisioned PLOTO system.

Can you give an update about the latest developments?

The University of Liège has anticipated the start of WP4 by starting to work on the setup of the inundation n and dike breaching models because they are key inputs for the subsequent steps of the projects. This work on WP4 has enabled providing more specific information for the definition of the PLOTO system specifications (WP2). It has positioned the use case in Wallonia as the preferred study site for showcasing the features of the PLOTO system under development.

Synergies are ongoing between the University of Liege and SPW, but also with partners such as Exus, FMI and NTUA, among others, on the setting up of flow rate computations for the Walloon study site.

What are your company’s next steps in the project, in relation to the pilot site? 

The University of Liège will proceed with implementing necessary upgrades in their computational models to comply with the requirements of the PLOTO. Fruitful collaboration with PLOTO partners (NTUA, FMI, Exus, a.o.) will continue to come up with modelling outcomes which could not be reached by separately by the individual partners.

What are your plans to build upon these results for future initiatives?

The modelling methods for simulating dike-breach-induced inundation and risk developed within PLOTO will be valuable for assessing similar risks along other waterways. The models will be transferrable to other study sites.


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