Hydrological Sciences

Communicating science to the public – an example after the recent floods in Germany

Communicating science to the public – an example after the recent floods in Germany

After the wet December 2023, the year 2024 started with widespread flooding in parts of Europe. Flooding during winter times is not unusual but brings particular challenges in terms of spatial extent, and the impact on people can be exacerbated when flooding comes with very low temperatures.

The exceptionally wet and warm winter necessarily triggers questions from the public about how this links to climate change. In Germany, the recent floods triggered additional questions on how the winter flooding situation compares to the 2021 Ahrtal disaster.

An example of science communication

Bruno Merz and Sergiy Vorogushyn from the GFZ, in collaboration with their media team, took the time to provide direct answers to the general public on these questions in their Q&A news post on the GFZ website.  The question catalogue was put together by a press officer such as to provide an overview of the event, its impacts and relevant background information, based partly on questions received from the public or the media. Their Q&As include one selected scientific reference per answered question, which empowers the readers (including journalists) to learn more about the topic and to understand what the open questions are.

This is a relatively simple yet effective way of communicating the most recent scientific insights to a wider audience; compared to newspaper articles based on interviews of scientists, such direct publication by researchers on their institute’s webpages has the main advantage of being freely accessible and discoverable and linked to the actual research. The need for such more or less real-time outreach activities will certainly grow in the future.

Selected additional examples from the GFZ:


Bettina Schaefli
Bettina Schaefli is a professor for hydrology at University of Bern (Switzerland). She was the head of the Catchment Hydrology Subdivision of EGU from 2016-2019 and was an editor of Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (2008-2022). She has been the lead editor of the Hydrology Blog since 2018.

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