Blue-green roofs with forecast-based operation to reduce the impact of weather extremes

Conventional green roofs have often been criticised for their limited water buffer capacity during extreme rainfall events and for their susceptibility to droughts when additional irrigation is unavailable. One solution to these challenges is to create an extra blue water retention layer underneath the green layer. Blue-green roofs allow more stormwater to be stored, and the reservoir can act as a water source for the green layer throughout capillary rises. An automated valve regulates the water level of the system. It can be opened to drain water when extreme precipitation is expected. Therefore, the water buffer capacity of the system during extreme rainfall events can be maximised by integrating precipitation forecasts as triggers for the operation of the valve.

However, the added value of this forecast-based operation is yet unknown. Accordingly, in this study, we design and evaluate a hydrological blue-green roof model that utilises precipitation forecasts. We test its performance to capture (extreme) precipitation and to increase evapotranspiration and evaporative cooling under a variety of precipitation forecast-based decision rules. We show that blue-green roofs can capture between 70 % and 97 % of extreme precipitation (>20 mm/h) when set to anticipate ensemble precipitation forecasts from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF). This capture ratio is considerably higher than that of a conventional green roof without extra water retention (12 %) or that of a blue-green roof that does not use forecast information (i.e., valve always closed; 59 %). Moreover, blue-green roofs allow for high evapotranspiration rates relative to potential evapotranspiration on hot summer days (around 70 %), which is higher than from conventional green roofs (30 %). This serves to underscore the higher capacity of blue-green roofs to reduce heat stress. Using the city of Amsterdam as a case study, we show the high upscaling potential of the concept: on average, potentially suitable flat roofs cover 13.3 % of the total area of the catchments that are susceptible to pluvial flood risk. If the 90th percentile of the ECMWF forecast is used, an 84 % rainfall capture ratio can translate into capturing 11 % of rainfall in flood-prone urban catchments in Amsterdam.

Source: Busker, T., de Moel, H., Hier, T., Schmeits, M., van den Hurk, B., Kyers, K., Cirkel, D. G., & Aerts J. 2021. Blue-green roofs with forecast-based operation to reduce the impact of weather extremes. Elsevier, Journal of Environmental Management.

Image credits

Icon image: Wikimedia Commons - green roofs