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The hydrological performance of a green roof test bed under UK climatic conditions

posted 21 Feb 2014, 06:14 by

This paper presents new rainfall and runoff data from a UK green roof test bed which has been collected almost-continuously over a 29-month period from 01/01/2007 to 31/05/2009. Overall, the monitoring period was fairly typical of the location’s long-term climatic averages, although the data set includes some extreme events in June 2007, which were associated with serious flooding locally. To focus on the system’s performance under rainfall events likely to be of interest from an urban drainage/stormwater management perspective, return period analysis has been applied to identify those storm events with a rainfall depth in excess of 5 mm and a return period greater than one year. According to these criteria, 22 significant events have been identified, of which 21 have reliable runoff records. Overall the roof provided 50.2% cumulative annual rainfall retention, with a total volumetric retention equivalent to 30% during the significant events. The annual performance figures are towards the lower end of a range of international data, probably reflecting the fact that rainfall depths may be higher and evapotranspiration rates lower than in some more continental climatic settings. The roof’s finite retention depth means that the maximum possible retention percentage declines as storm depth increases, and retention varied from between 0 and 20 mm, or 0% to 100%. Although some attenuation and delay of peak runoff is generally observed (mean peak flow reduction of 60% for the 21 significant events), the irregularity of natural rainfall patterns, combined with the variable influence of detention storage in specific events, makes the identification of peak-to-peak lag times difficult and arguably meaningless. Regression analyses have been undertaken to explore the potential to predict the roof’s hydrological performance as a function of storm characteristics. However, these are shown to have poor predictive capability, even for the system from which they were derived. Through a detailed examination of data from three contrasting events, it is argued that the inter-event processes are too complex to be captured by this type of modelling approach. Instead, an understanding of the hydrological processes affecting the flux of moisture into and out of the substrate is required to explain the observed runoff response. Locally-derived evapotranspiration rates and the roof’s observed maximum retention capacity are utilised to provide pragmatic guidance on the retention performance to be expected in response to selected design events.


► New continuous 5-min hydrological performance data from a UK green roof test bed. ► 50.2% Overall retention, falling to 30% for significant events (>1 year return period). ► Regression analysis shows retention is not simply a function of ADWP. ► Performance is dependent upon substrate moisture fluxes; ET is critical. ► The roof has a finite retention capacity, in this case a maximum of 20 mm.


  • Green roof
  • Stormwater management
  • Retention
  • Return period
  • Detention
  • Substrate