Iowa flood data boosts global climate resilience effort

By John Fialka | 03/04/2024 06:45 AM EST

The World Bank is making flood risk maps available to climate vulnerable countries, thanks to a water model tested using Iowa’s extensive sensor network.

A wooden pallet floats down a flooded street in 2008 in downtown Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

A wooden pallet floats down a flooded street in downtown Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 2008. The unexpected disaster prompted state lawmakers to fund a flood protection effort that led to a wealth of data useful for global flood risk models. Jeff Roberson/AP

The World Bank recently announced it will offer free flood risk data to 16 developing countries — a step partly made possible by lessons learned from a 2008 flood in Iowa.

The project is part of a collaboration between the World Bank and a British research company called Fathom, which created a global flood map. Countries particularly vulnerable to climate change — including Madagascar, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen — will get free access to the map, which includes data on inland and coastal flood risk today and in various future climate scenarios.

“Awareness is pivotal for managing and mitigating the devastating effects of flooding,” Fathom CEO Stuart Whitfield said in a statement. “We’re incredibly proud to be offering insights into flood risk not previously available for these data scarce countries, to help support future planning and resilience to water risk.”


The announcement follows growing research in recent years predicting that flood damage, already the world’s “most costly natural disaster,” will rapidly increase as the Earth’s climate continues to warm. Fathom, created in 2013 by hydraulic engineers at the University of Bristol, uses a combination of lasers and machine learning to build predictive computer models of flood-swollen streams.