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Article | WTW Research Network Newsletter

When geophysical sciences meet insurance: Insights from Europe’s largest geosciences event

By Daniel Bannister and James Dalziel | June 1, 2023

As climate change and environmental hazards continue to pose a growing threat, the insurance industry plays a critical role in managing and mitigating risks.
Climate|Insurance Consulting and Technology|Risk and Analytics|Willis Research Network
Climate Risk and Resilience|Insurer Solutions

Staying informed about the latest science research and innovations is essential to stay ahead.

That's where the European Geosciences Union (EGU) conference comes in. As Europe's largest geosciences event, held annually at the Austria Center Vienna, it offers a flagship platform for sharing the latest research, scientific discoveries, and innovations in geosciences. The conference covers a diverse range of topics, including earth, planetary, climate change, natural hazards, and space sciences, through talks, posters, workshops, and panel discussions. The April 2023 event attracted 18,831 attendees from 107 countries around the world, offering 16,357 presentations across hundreds of parallel sessions[1]. The wealth of information provides valuable insights for the insurance industry, leading to the development of innovative solutions and contributing to a more resilience and sustainable future for all.

Entrance to Austria Center Vienna with sign of EGU above.
Photo credit: D. Bannister

Understanding the impacts of natural hazards

With climate change being a major driver of increased weather-related losses, sessions on climate change and the effects of climate change on extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, and their attribution[2], and the need for responses to climate change such as adaptation and mitigation[3], are especially relevant for the industry.

For instance, the development of a novel methodology to characterise streamflow regimes in the context of total annual streamflow for water supply showcases the need to accurately monitor and predict changes in water supply[4]. Furthermore, the findings on the increasing frequency of compound dry-hot events emphasized the potential for a higher number of such events in the future due to changes in rainfall, temperature, and soil moisture-temperature coupling[5]. Not only is this information critical for policy-makers and communities to prepare for mitigating the impacts of future extreme weather events, but it also enables insurers to better evaluate risks and potential losses associated with extreme weather events.

Wildfire (monitoring, modelling, forecasting, and impact assessment) also emerged as a prominent topic. Researchers from the University of Adelaide presented a wildfire connectivity index that captures the structural patterns of wildfire likelihood, influenced by the interaction of fire behaviour across multiple scales[6]. Such an index can support wildfire risk assessments and is especially relevant for the insurance industry to assess associated risks and losses and plan for risk reduction activities.

The interconnected nature of risks was highlighted, as droughts can lead to forest fires, while heavy rainfall on dry soil can trigger floods or landslides, all further worsening existing food and water shortages or the outbreak of diseases. Recognizing interdependencies is essential for mitigating disasters, as the well-being of nature, humanity and the economy are interconnected in today’s world. Discussions emphasised the crucial importance of understanding natural hazard risks in a holistic manner and called for the development of tools, methods, frameworks and guidelines to effectively tackle co-occurring and cascading risks[7].

The MYRIAD-EU project[8] aims to address these issues through the creation of a 10k year stochastic event set for multi-hazard modelling, with the talk highlighting challenges presented by coupling of events, secondary hazards, and dependant scenarios. Developments such as these aim to enhance preparedness and response capabilities for both individual communities and the insurance industry.

Photo of foyer of Austria Vienna Center with attendees talking to each other
Photo credit: J. Dalziel

Building resilience against natural hazards

Topics such as community resilience, decision-making in response to climate change, and timely access to environmental data are crucial for insures to assess risks accurately and develop appropriate responses. Presentations shed light on the importance of timely access to environmental data for community resilience and the challenges communities face in using scientific data[9],[10]. This also underscores the need for new approaches to produce and integrate data, and the implications of data for policies supporting responses to climate change.

One specific area of interest discussed was the role of insurance in promoting nature-based solutions for wildfire risk management.[3] The paradigm shift towards a fire loss-prevention strategy through nature-based solutions, such as fire-resistant vegetation prioritization, controlled burns, and risk-adapted development, has gained consensus as an effective approach. The question arises as to whether risk financing strategies, particularly insurance, can facilitate the adoption of nature-based solutions by providing protection against damages from prescribed burns or livestock grazing, offering discounts for implementing ecological fire-prevention measures, or even repairing ecological damage through (parametric) policies. These discussions explored the opportunities and constraints for insurers to support nature-based solutions for wildfire risk management, drawing on ongoing research in Horizon Europe projects such as FireLogue, The HuT, and NATURANCE.

Harnessing technology to address natural hazards

Another key topic for the insurance and risk management industry is the use of remote sensing and Earth observation to understand climate change, predict natural hazards, and manage risks[11]. Many presentations highlighted the expanding roles of remote Earth observation, big data, AI, and machine learning including volcanic early warning systems[12], earthquake and tsunami modelling[13], and automatic detection of landslides[14]. These new machine learning algorithms and other advanced data analytics techniques can help insurers more accurately assess risk, set premiums, and manage claims. With so much surface area to cover in a constantly changing physical landscape, the use of high-performance computing and automation to process satellite images and historical data for risk assessment and forecasting is also now a necessity. One of the most exciting aspects of these technologies, from a research perspective, is their constant evolution and improvement. It is clear that to stay ahead of the evolving risks, the insurance and risk management industry must embrace technological advancements and interdisciplinary collaboration. The opportunities for collaboration are numerous, and the WTW Research Network, in its unique position bridging the gap between academia and industry, is ideally placed to highlight where limitations and uncertainties exist and help to address them.

Talks of particular interest include the Corpora for Volcanoes project; development of an AI tool to assess and query digitised historical documents detailing types of eruption at particular volcanoes, in order to forecast potential future eruption types and risk assessment for resilience planning[15]. There was also an emphasis on assessment of tsunamigenic events, with talks discussing the creation of a collaborative Euro-Mediterranean submarine landslide database containing historical and geomorphological information for quantitative assessment of landslide-derived tsunamis[16], and how stochastic earthquake slip models can affect uncertainty for tsunami forecasting[17].

These research topics and the insurance and risk broking industry intersect where there is a need to harness large quantities of data; both historical catalogues as well as up-to-date monitoring and remote Earth observation, processing these for relevant information, and incorporating them into models that can quickly and accurately assess the risk and exposure to clients. Insights shared by industry professionals emphasised that certain datasets and models, commonly regarded as “standard” within insurance and reinsurance fields, may not incorporate the most recent advancements in scientific research. The WTW Research Network endeavours to tackle these concerns through our focus on model evaluation, thereby addressing the need for ongoing improvement and innovation in this domain.

Photo of billboard lit up with sign welcome to the egu  general assembly  2023 enjoy fullest
Photo credit: J. Dalziel

Fostering collaboration and communication in the climate change era

Effective collaboration and communication are key enablers for addressing the challenges posed by climate change and natural hazards. The importance of effective ways to engage broader audiences and communicate complex scientific concepts in accessible and compelling ways, including the breaking of knowledge and data silos, to improve climate equity was an emphasis throughout. The conference highlighted the significance of interdisciplinary research and collaboration between academia, industry, policymakers, and communities.

Interdisciplinary research, such as the CLICCS Plausibility Assessment Framework[18], which evaluates the feasibility of deep decarbonization by 2050 and staying within the 1.5°C global warming limit, plays a key role in facilitating effective communication and decision-making by bringing together over 60 scientists from various social and physical sciences. Despite the unique focus of the CLICCS framework and in facilitating collaboration and communication, the unfortunate conclusion drawn is that the current circumstances render deep decarbonization and meeting Paris-aligned goals implausible. To increase plausibility, it is crucial to continue to address knowledge gaps, garner societal support for sustainability transformations, and establish frameworks for sustainable consumption and production.

Furthermore, panel discussions on effective communication[19], stressed the importance of engaging broader audience beyond climate science and fostering intergenerational equity. However, the absence of insurance industry experts in discussions and panel sessions highlight the need for greater engagement from the industry. As the insurance sector has a unique role in incentivizing and supporting investments for climate and environmental risk mitigation, active participation from industry representatives can contribute valuable insights and drive informed decision-making and policy development.

The WTW Research Network’s partnerships with academic institutions showcase collaborative efforts in this field. WTW Research Network Fellow Dr. Matthew Priestley from the University of Exeter, who, guided by Professors David Stephenson and Adam Scaife, presented a new method to estimate wind gusts across Europe up to the 200-year return period with a resolution of 4.4km[20]. This new approach could be useful for industries and government agencies that do not traditionally use catastrophe models,to better understand and manage windstorm risks. Leanne Archer from the University of Bristol discussed her PhD research on improving the understanding of current and future flood risk in Puerto Rico using high-resolution flood hazard and population exposure estimates[21], while Tudor Suciu from the University of Cambridge presented an AI-driven approach to understand future coastal flooding in the United Kingdom[22]. Both projects aim to provide policy-makers, businesses, governments, and individuals with actionable information to better plan for future flood events. In addition, a poster advertising the TREAD (daTa and pRocesses in sEismic hAzarD) project, which is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Horizon Europe Doctoral Training Network in which WTW is a key industry partner, was also displayed[23].

Photo of a presenter with a slide
Photo credit: T. Jones

So what does this all mean for the insurance and risk management industry?

First, the four themes emphasized here – understanding the impacts of natural hazards, building resilience, harnessing technology, and fostering collaboration and communication – and the priorities therein – not only serve as fundamental building blocks to address climate change and growing vulnerability to natural hazards, but they also guide research efforts within academia and industry, together, to bridge the knowledge-action gap. They highlight the key areas of focus for addressing climate change and the increasing vulnerability to natural hazards.

Understanding the Impacts of Natural Hazards

Understanding the impacts of natural hazards


  • Co-occuring and cascading hazards
  • Extreme events
  • Emerging risks
Building Resilience Against Natural Hazards

Building resilience against natural hazards


  • Decentralise decision-making
  • Prevention rather than response
  • Climate equity
Harnessing Technology to Address Natural Hazards

Harnessing technology to address natural hazards


  • Remote sensing and Earth observations
  • AI and machine learning tools
  • High-performance compute
Fostering Collaboration and Communication in the Climate Change Era

Fostering collaboration and communication in the climate change era


  • Effective communication
  • Breaking knowledge and data silos
  • Interdisciplinary research

Second, to navigate the challenges ahead, it is crucial for the industry to take proactive steps. Embracing emerging technologies and scientific advancements can lead to improved risk assessment, forecasting, and claim management. By investing in data analytics tools, developing new underwriting models and risk management strategies, and re-evaluating existing practices, insurers can more accurately predict the costs associated with natural hazards and better serve their clients.

However, and last, the path to resilience requires collaboration and interdisciplinary efforts. Insurers should actively engage in discussions, policy development, and partnerships with academic institutions and stakeholders. By advocating for enhanced data accessibility and contributing to the development of tools and methodologies that encompass all dimensions of risk, including hazard, vulnerability, and exposure, the insurance industry can play a pivotal role in driving comprehensive risk management solutions.

The WTW Research Network stands at the forefront of this mission, working closely with researchers, policymakers, and stakeholders to manage and mitigate risks associated with natural hazards and climate change. By staying informed, incorporating accurate information into risk assessment, embracing technological advancements, fostering interdisciplinary collaboration, and actively engaging in discussions and policy development, the insurance and risk broking industry can continue to contribute to a more resilient and sustainable future for all.


  1. EGU Official Communication. Return to article
  2. Fischer, E.: The record-shattering 2021 Pacific Northwest heatwave – challenges and opportunities for attribution and event storylines, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-11732, 2023. Return to article
  3. Bayer, J., Bacciu, V., Plana, E., Sousa, L., Surminski, S., and Deubelli-Hwang, T.: Nature-based solutions for wildfire risk management: the role of insurance, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-9392, 2023. Return to article
  4. Dykman, C., Sharma, A., Wasko, C., and Nathan, R.: Can annual streamflow volumes be characterised by flood events alone?, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-10210, 2023. Return to article
  5. Agarwal, A.: Disentangling the Characteristics and Drivers of Compound Drought and Hot Extremes, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-8830, 2023. Return to article
  6. Radford, D., Maier, H., van Delden, H., Zecchin, A., and Jeanneau, A.: Efficiently Estimating Patterns in Wildfire Burn Probability, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-4619, 2023. Return to article
  7. Session US1. Return to article
  8. About MYRIAD-EU. Return to article
  9. Modekurty, S., Virapongse, A., Gupta, R., Robbins, Z. J., Blythe, J., and Duerr, R. E.: Next Steps for Earth Science Contributions to Community Resilience, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-17453, 2023. Return to article
  10. Blennow, K. and Persson, J.: The role of beliefs, expectations and values for decision-making in response to climate change, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-6880, 2023. Return to article
  11. Pettinari, M. L., Lizundia-Loiola, J., Khairoun, A., Roteta, E., Storm, T., Boettcher, M., Danne, O., Brockmann, C., and Chuvieco, E.: Global and continental burned area detection from remote sensing: the FireCCI products, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-1317, 2023. Return to article
  12. Bountos, N. I., Michail, D., Herekakis, T., Thanasou, A., and Papoutsis, I.: Pluto: A global volcanic activity early warning system powered by large scale self-supervised deep learning on InSAR data, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-5913, 2023. Return to article
  13. Cordrie, L., Selva, J., Bernardi, F., and Tonini, R.: Using available and incoming data for reducing and updating seismic source ensembles for probabilistic tsunami forecasting (PTF) in early-warning and urgent computing, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-12363, 2023. Return to article
  14. Leeming, K., Gonzalez Alvarez, I., Novellino, A., and Taylor, S.: Automatic detection of landslides from satellite images using a range of training events, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-8446, 2023. Return to article
  15. Principe, C. and Marini, C.: Using text corpora for volcanic eruption impact assessment and resilience planning: The first steps of the CorVo project, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-15120, 2023. Return to article
  16. Urgeles, R., Gamboa, D., León, R., Lovholt, F., Vanneste, M., Cattaneo, A., and Vila, C.: The EuroMediterranean Submarine Landslide database: towards offshore geohazard quantitative assessement from submarine landslides and derived tsunamis, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-2662, 2023. Return to article
  17. Nievas, C. I., Androsov, A., and Weatherill, G.: Earthquake-Triggered Tsunamis: Impact of the Uncertainty in the Rupture Slip Distribution on the Resulting Tsunami Wave Heights and Flow Velocities, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-6291, 2023. Return to article
  18. Engels, A., Marotzke, J., Gresse, E., López-Rivera, A., Pagnone, A., & Wilkens, J. (2023). Hamburg Climate Futures Outlook 2023: The plausibility of a 1.5° C limit to global warming-Social drivers and physical processes. Return to article
  19. Session GDB2. Return to article
  20. Priestley, M., Stephenson, D., and Scaife, A.: Return levels of extreme European windstorms, their dependency on the NAO, and potential future risks, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-8138, 2023. Return to article
  21. Archer, L., Neal, J., Bates, P., Carroll, D., and Weaver, S.: Population Exposure to Rainfall-Driven Flooding from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-5998, 2023. Return to article
  22. Suciu, T., Shuckburgh, E., and Lane, N.: Future Extreme Weather: a Data and AI driven approach to Understand Future Coastal Flooding, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-17463, 2023. Return to article
  23. Pace, B., Benedetti, L., Van Dinther, Y., Pagani, M., Marsan, D., Gabriel, A., Ortuno, M., Di Toro, G., and Meier, M.-A. and the TREAD working group: TREAD daTa and pRocesses in sEismic hAzarD: a MSCA-Doctoral Networks project 2023-2027, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-3842, 2023. Return to article

Weather & Climate Risks Research Lead
WTW Research Network, WTW
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Head of Earth Risks Research
WTW Research Network
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