BGS blogs

Climate and geology: considering future potential for river scour

A trial BGS data product takes the temporal component of potential future increased amount and intensity of rainfall on river scour into account.

Henllan Bridge on River Tivey
High flow rates along the River Teifi (Afon Teifi), Wales. © GothicNexus/Pexels.

River scour is the removal of sediment or engineered materials from a river environment. It’s a real threat to riverine structures such as bridges and associated infrastructure. In Britain, there have been at least 50 known instances where river scour has caused railway bridge failures (van Leeuwen and Lamb, 2014, Lamb et al., 2019).

With projected climate scenarios telling us not only of an expected increase in rainfall in some areas of the UK, but also of an increase in the intensity of that rainfall, we are expecting river scour to become an increasing issue. With fuller and faster flowing rivers, proximal assets including roads and buildings could also become at increased risk if river scour removes sediments laterally and at a faster pace. We need to be able to identify locations at risk and adapt to the changing conditions to increase our resilience.

The existing BGS GeoScour data product provides information for users on the natural characteristics and properties of catchment and riverine environments for the assessment of river scour across Great Britain. Whilst this product provides information on baseline geological conditions and other associated characteristics, it does not convey potential for change through time. Take a look at this video we released on our original GeoScour product for some more information.

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BGS GeoScour provides information for users on the natural characteristics and properties of catchment and riverine environments for the assessment of river scour in Great Britain.

To bring in this temporal component, with a focus on changing patterns of precipitation based on UKCP18 projections, we are now trialling a new GeoScour-Climate dataset. To date with this beta product, we have considered how climate change could modify potential effects related to flood accommodation space (locations with limited space to hold flood waters will potentially be at higher risk of scour events) and worst-case scenario erosion cases as identified in the current GeoScour product. This provides time-specific potential for change under the extreme scenario RCP 8.5 (read more about RCPs, or representative concentration pathways, on the Met Office website).

By integrating climate scenario information, we can move from providing baseline conditions to incorporating environmental process interactions over time. This will enable our data product users to establish a better understanding of how river scour might evolve through time. Incorporating this additional information into planning and risk assessment development can then help ensure climate resilience and the sustainability of both existing and future infrastructure and developments.

BGS GeoScour-Climate beta-product
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Snapshot of the GeoScour-Climate beta-product for 2070, resampled to 10 km hex grids. BGS © UKRI.

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To ensure that our future products meet your requirements, consideration of your needs throughout the development process is essential. If you would like to learn more about our GeoScour-Climate developments or would like to discuss how this and similar climate related datasets might be useful for your applications or business, please get in touch with us at If you have five minutes, please also fill out our user engagement survey.

About the authors

Christopher Williams Geospatial analysis lead
Dr Christopher Williams

Head of Digital Mapping

BGS Keyworth
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Kathryn Lee

Geologist; Informatics Product Portfolio Manager

BGS Keyworth
Find out more

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