Thornton, James

Physically-based hydrogeological models have long been recognised to hold considerable predictive potential with respect to both ungauged catchments and the future; in theory, parameterising and evaluating such models using spatially-distributed measurements can ensure that we obtain the “right answers for the right reasons”. However, the application of such models has been hampered by issues such as their large number of uncertain parameters (relative to routinely available constraining data), the difficulty of measuring key variables at commensurate scales, and long runtimes. Consequently, simpler conceptual hydrological models, which have limited physical meaning and typically rely even more heavily on calibration, tend to be used for operational purposes.

Having said this, new measurements techniques, more efficient model codes, and increasing computer power are now enabling the potential of the physically-based approach to be unlocked. My research, which is supervised by Professor Philip Brunner (Université de Neuchâtel) and Professor Grégoire Mariéthoz (Université de Lausanne), seeks to explore the value of various novel data types in the construction of a comprehensive model of an alpine catchment. As part of the IntegrAlp project (http://wp.unil.ch/integralp/), the interactions between hydrology, soils, vegetation and geomorphology will be explored, as will the possible impacts of climatic change on mountain water resources. The study is funded by the SNF.

Education and Positions held

I was previously employed in the development of models that are used in the reinsurance industry to quantify natural catastrophe risk. This work involved a mixture of hydrology, GIS, statistics, project management, client management, report writing and presentation delivery. During this period, I also completed an MSc by Research degree in the field of flood-frequency analysis on a part-time basis. My undergraduate degree course placed particular emphasis on hydrology, glaciology and environmental change, along with associated quantitative and computational techniques.

2014 – 2016 (part-time): MSc by Research in Geography, Department of Geography, Durham University, UK

2012 – 2016 (full-time): Catastrophe Risk Analyst & Model Developer, JBA Risk Management Limited, Skipton, UK

2009 – 2012: BSc in Physical Geography (with First Class Honours), School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol, UK

  • Dissertation: The utility of field measurements in the distributed hydrological modelling of a Swiss alpine catchment


Thornton, J.M., Mariethoz, G. and Brunner, P. A 3D geological model of a structurally complex Alpine region as a basis for interdisciplinary research. Scientific Data, 5:180238 doi: 10.1038/sdata.2018.238 (2018).

Presentations Given

Thornton J.M., Mariethoz G. and Brunner P. 3D geological modelling as a basis for hydrogeological investigations in complex mountain terrain, 14th Swiss Geoscience Meeting, November 2016, Geneva (poster)

Thornton, J.M. New river flow maxima in Northern England, December 2015: Implications for flood hazard and risk assessment? EGU General Assembly 2016, Vienna. Geophysical Research Abstracts, Vol. 18, EGU2016-9807

Leedal, D., Willis, T.D.M., Thornton, J.M. and Booth, N. Flood modelling: From data to decision (catastrophe modelling training course for insurers), March 2016, Skipton

Thornton, J.M. Advancing the science of flood modelling: JBA’s new multi-peril probabilistic flood model of the UK, UK Flood: State of the Nation, March 2016, The Old Library, Lloyds of London, London

Thornton, J.M. Deciding which risks to cede to Flood Re, The 2015 Industry Practitioners’ Forum on Flood Risk & Insurance, October 2015, London

Willis, I. and Thornton, J.M. Considerations in building a new UK Flood catastrophe model, Managing Catastrophe Risk conference, June 2015, London

Thornton, J.M., Desarthe, J., Naulin, J-P., Garnier, E., Liu, Y. and Moncoulon, D. Estimating hypothetical present-day insured losses for past intense hurricanes in the French Antilles, EGU General Assembly 2015, Vienna. Geophysical Research Abstracts Vol. 17, EGU2015-4882 (poster)

Thornton, J.M., Thompson, T., Liu, Y., Chaney, C. Dunning, P. Hutchings, S., Taylor, P. and Pickering, C. National scale high-resolution quantification of fluvial flood risk in Great Britain, EGU General Assembly 2014, Vienna. Geophysical Research Abstracts, Vol. 16, EGU2014-11117

Thornton, J.M., Moncoulon, D., Raven, E. and Millinship, I. Predicting extreme wind speeds on a tropical island for multi-peril catastrophe modelling, EGU General Assembly 2013, Vienna. Geophysical Research Abstracts, Vol. 15, EGU2013-5263



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