Wonderful water.  Grzegorz Walijewski: In Poland, water-related disasters have been and will remain so

Jakub Szczepański, Interia: “Great Water” added niche to the hydrology profession?

Grzegorz Walijewski, meteorological hydrologist, press spokesperson for IMGW-PIB: – Other series that our work has not yet shown. Thanks to production, you can gain at least a little knowledge about it. So far, we have been able to watch films about oceanographers, marine biologists and divers. In this particular case, the context of the river and the hydrological forecast are intriguing. My friends certainly tell me about the positive reception of the series. They often ask if this is what my job looks like, is this how we work at IMWM-PIB? I answer that my tasks are very important, and I also have to make important decisions in the context of protecting the population from dangerous hydrological and meteorological phenomena, and also make field measurements and create forecasts. Also very similar to the show.

Something that particularly caught your eye in production?

– The main character and I are hydrologists. We are interested mainly in water on the surface of the Earth: rivers, lakes, wetlands and artificial reservoirs, but also precipitation. But her older classmate identifies himself as a hydrogeologist. This is a groundwater specialist. There are many disciplines: a marine scientist studies lakes, a potamologist focuses on rivers, a synoptic hydrologist predicts the state and flow of water, a model hydrologist creates hydrological models, and a hydrologist is interested in life in water. In any case, the creation of “Wielka Woda” is very happy.

As a hydrologist, have you experienced the effects of broadcasting a series on your skin?

– The first show was held less than two weeks ago and I received a lot of inquiries. That’s why I feel for the comments personally. People wonder if it was really the case in 1997, if a lot of rain fell. They want to know if the service in such situations has animosities like the ones in the chain. The creators definitely decided to “color” the plot a little, they added some elements of politics.

Do you remember similar events?

– In the face of a hydrologically dangerous situation, as in 2010, when the flood was severe, the cooperation with the emergency response services was very good. Nobody discussed with IMWM-PIB experts. We communicated our expectations and the state reacted.

Slightly different from “Great Water”.

Since 1997, everything has changed completely. After this flood, we set up a huge network for measuring and monitoring the rivers. There are currently more than 600 hydrological stations. They automatically measure the water level every 10 minutes. After an additional two minutes, data is available from all stations and analyzed by hydrologists, for example at the Hydrological Prediction Bureau. Thanks to this, we create the best predictions or warnings. Of course, we also make other observations and measurements, including: water flow in rivers, water temperature, river overgrowth, and in winter the type and degree of ice.

How does this translate to the status of the population?

– In some cities, when large amounts of water come in, with a certain level and place of water, we can determine the area and even the size of the flood. In 1997, there were no such opportunities as they were presented in the film. It’s a bit deviating from reality. At that time, calculations were mainly done manually. There were computers, but one had to wait many hours for the analyses. Today we have a completely different technology: supercomputers, massive computing power, modern models.

Viewers of “Wielka Woda” can notice the argument between the main character and her older friend who ensure that Wrocław is safe. Can you imagine such a dispute between experts in real life?

– The Polish law, the Water Law Act, states that the IMWM-PIB performs the state hydrological and meteorological service. It is a respected establishment with professionals who know their job. Today, services are not discussed with our experts. They take expectations seriously and react when needed. No place to threaten human health and life. Our reputation is due, for example, to the verifiability of predictions and warnings.

Read also: Great Water. Who is who? How was it really?

Do you think that in 1997 such a discussion could not have taken place between experts and the authorities?

A quarter of a century has passed since the Millennium Flood. I remember her, but then never thought I would become a hydrologist. However, at the time, such problems and warnings seemed to have been taken seriously. After all, the plot of the series should be a little exaggerated.

for viewers?

We have a flood of hydrologists and meteorologists. They even build their own research stations near their rivers. They take measurements, and try to make their own predictions. On the Internet, there are subsequent discussions about the effectiveness of our tests, measurements, or predictions of temperature. However, the services have great confidence in the IMWM-PIB.

What elements of fiction, when it comes to a hydrologist’s work, did you capture them in the movie “Great Water”?

– Sure, measurements, tests and everything that the main character does can not be done by one person. At the institute, we had teams of specialists who handled the measurements. As in the film, teams with a hydromill (used to study the flow of water – liberator) went off-road. The information from them should reach the Bureau of Hydrological Forecasting as soon as possible. In the event of such a flood, there were even hired monitors who took measurements every hour. Groundwater reacts a little longer to rainfall and rising waters.

What about the effects of expectations?

– The hydrological models looked a little different, and they weren’t very accurate. The conversion took longer, based on handwritten notes. Currently, in the Hydrological Forecast Office, we have constant access to maps. It must be updated, so there is no doubt about the old. In the 90s, they were also created continuously. And one more thing: hydrologists have no influence on decisions about blowing dams.

Do you recommend blowing up dams? It would flood the countryside and not a big city?

It is better that such situations do not happen, which is why it is so important to invest in flood protection infrastructure, such as reclaimed land or reservoirs, now. At the IMWM-NRI, we have created interactive flood risk maps and flood risk maps for Poland, and we create new products, such as operational models for dam failures. These are very important tools for crisis management services. If this happens, then the results of these tools will be used, and a place will be sought where there will be floodplains, fields, and not villages. Such swamps, where water can be poured, are located in different parts of Polish rivers. Definitely the losses should be minimized. By the way: in 2010, when the water was flowing along the Vistula River, dams were released near Sandomierz. Happiness was in disaster. If they kept water, Warsaw would have a big problem.

With today’s technology, are we in danger of a disaster like 1997?

It must be clearly emphasized that water-related disasters in Poland were and will remain so. It is not only about excess water, but also its deficiency. In fact, every year we have a larger or smaller flood in part of the country. Lately, they’ve been more local. In August, locally in Lower Silesia and the Opole region, there was as much rain in just two days as it should have been in three months. Had it not been for the drought, and the rivers would have been dominated by medium or high water levels, we would have had a very similar situation as in 2010. Fortunately, there was no big problem with the rivers, but the Obol was flooded.

When do you get a signal that something might be wrong?

– The first was two weeks ago. Meteorological forecasts seven days in advance can be verified by about 70%. Two days ago up to 90 per cent. Once we know them, we can tell how much water will arrive and how it will flow. Three days ago, we even sent out warnings and forecasts of dangerous hydrological and meteorological phenomena. On the meteo.imgw.pl website we have a dynamic map service that displays threats continuously.

Should we be prepared for natural disasters?

In the age of models, measurements, and modern collaboration, the risk of an unexpected event is close to zero. This does not mean that nothing bad can happen. Something will happen in the end. It can be very wet even from Po Plain and in three or four days we have six months of rain. It’s a recipe ready to flood.

Jacob Shchepanski

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