Ecological Approach for Mitigation of Urban Flood Risks
T.V. Ramachandra*          Uttam Kumar           Bharath H. Aithal
1Energy & Wetlands Research Group, Centre for Ecological Sciences [CES], Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore – 560012, India.
*Corresponding author:


Urbanisation is a form of metropolitan growth that is a response to often bewildering sets of economic, social, and political forces and to the physical geography of an area. It is the increase in the population of cities in proportion to the region’s rural population. The 20th century is witnessing “the rapid urbanisation of the world’s population”, as the global proportion of urban population rose dramatically from 13% (220 million) in 1900, to 29% (732 million) in 1950, to 49% (3.2 billion) in 2005 and is projected to rise to 60% (4.9 billion) by 2030 (UN, 2005). Urban ecosystems are the consequence of the intrinsic nature of humans as social beings to live together (Sudhira et al., 2003; Ramachandra and Uttam Kumar, 2008). The process of urbanisation contributed by infrastructure initiatives, consequent population growth and migration results in the growth of villages into towns, towns into cities and cities into metros. Urbanisation and urban sprawl have posed serious challenges to the decision makers in the city planning and management process involving plethora of issues like infrastructure development, traffic congestion, and basic amenities (electricity, water, and sanitation), etc. (Kulkarni and Ramachandra, 2006). Apart from this, major implications of urbanisation are:

  • Loss of wetlands and green spaces: Urbanisation has telling influences on the natural resources such as decline in green spaces including wetlands and / or depleting groundwater table.
  • Floods: Common consequences of urban development are increased peak discharge and frequency of floods as land is converted from fields or woodlands to roads and parking lots, it loses its ability to absorb rainfall. Conversion of water bodies to residential layouts has compounded the problem by removing the interconnectivities in an undulating terrain. Encroachment of natural drains, alteration of topography involving the construction of high rise buildings, removal of vegetative cover, reclamation of wetlands are the prime reasons for frequent flooding even during normal rainfall post 2000.
  • Decline in groundwater table: Studies reveal the removal of waterbodies has led to the decline in water table. Water table has declined to 300 m from 28 m over a period of 20 years after the reclamation of lake with its catchment for commercial activities. Also, groundwater table in intensely urbanized area such as whitefield, etc. has now dropped to 400 to 500m.
  • Heat island: Surface and atmospheric temperatures are increased by anthropogenic heat discharge due to energy consumption, increased land surface coverage by artificial materials having high heat capacities and conductivities, and the associated decreases in vegetation and water pervious surfaces, which reduce surface temperature through evapotranspiration.
  • Increased carbon footprint: Due to the adoption of inappropriate building architecture, the consumption of electricity has increased in certain corporation wards drastically. The building design conducive to tropical climate would have reduced the dependence on electricity. Higher energy consumption, enhanced pollution levels due to the increase of private vehicles, traffic bottlenecks have contributed to carbon emissions significantly. Apart from these, mismanagement of solid and liquid wastes has aggravated the situation.

Unplanned urbanisation has drastically altered the drainage characteristics of natural catchments, or drainage areas, by increasing the volume and rate of surface runoff. Drainage systems are unable to cope with the increased volume of water and are often encountered with the blockage due to indiscriminate disposal of solid wastes. Encroachment of wetlands, floodplains, etc. obstructs floodways causing loss of natural flood storage. Damages from urban flooding could be categorized as: direct damage – typically material damage caused by water or flowing water, and indirect damage – e.g. traffic disruptions, administrative and labour costs, production losses, spreading of diseases, etc.

Studies on the phenomenon of Urban Heat Island (UHI) using satellite derived land surface temperature (LST) measurements have been conducted using various satellite data products acquired in thermal region of the electromagnetic spectrum. Currently available satellite thermal infrared sensors provide different spatial resolution and temporal coverage data that can be used to estimate LST. The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) has a 4-km resolution in the thermal infrared, while the NOAA-Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) and the Terra and Aqua-MODIS have 1-km spatial resolutions. Significantly high resolution data come from the Terra-Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) which has a 90-m pixel resolution, the Landsat-5 Thematic Mapper (TM) which has a 120-m resolution, and Landsat-7 Enhanced Thematic Mapper (ETM) which has a 60-m resolution. However, these instruments have a repeat cycle of 16 days (Li et. al., 2004; Ramachandra and Uttam Kumar, 2009). Weng (2001, 2003) examined LST pattern and its relationship with land cover (LC) in Guangzhou and in the urban clusters in the Zhujiang Delta, China. Nikolakopopulos et al., (2003) have used Landsat-5 TM and Landsat-7 ETM+ data for creating the temperature profile of Alfios River Basin. Stathopoulou and Cartalis (2007) have used Landsat ETM+ data to identify daytime urban heat island using Corine LC data for major cities in Greece. Using a Landsat ETM+ imagery of City of Indianapolis, IN, USA, Weng et al., (2004) examined the surface temperature UHI in the city. They derived LST and analysed their spatial variations using Landsat ETM+ thermal measurements with the urban vegetation abundance and investigated their relationship. UHI studies have traditionally been conducted for isolated locations and with in situ measurements of air temperatures. The advent of satellite remote sensing technology has made it possible to study UHI both remotely and on continental or global scales (Streutker, 2002). In this work, Landsat data of 1973 (of 79 m spatial resolution), 1992 and 2000 (30 m), IRS LISS-III data of 1999 and 2006 (23.5 m) and MODIS data of 2002 and 2007 (with 250 m to 500 m spatial resolution) are used with supervised pattern classifiers based on maximum likelihood (ML) estimation. Also, an attempt is made to map land surface temperatures across various LC types to understand heat island effect.

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Citation : Ramachandra T. V., Uttam Kumar and Bharath H. Aithal, (2012), Ecosystem Approach for Mitigation of Urban Flood Risks. Chapter 7, In: Ecosystem Approach to Disaster Risk Reduction (Eds. Anil K. Gupta and Sreeja, S. Nair). Published by National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM), Ministry of Home Affairs, Govt. of India, IIPA Campus, New Delhi - 110002, India, pp 103-119.
* Corresponding Author :
Dr. T.V. Ramachandra
Energy & Wetlands Research Group, Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore – 560 012, India.
Tel : +91-80-2293 3099/2293 3503-extn 107,      Fax : 91-80-23601428 / 23600085 / 23600683 [CES-TVR]
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