Climate change has led to concerns about increasing river floods resulting from the greater water-holding capacity of a warmer atmosphere 1. These concerns are reinforced by evidence of increasing economic losses associated with flooding in many parts of the world, including Europe 2. Any changes in river floods would have lasting implications for the design of flood protection measures and flood risk zoning. However, existing studies have been unable to identify a consistent continental-scale climatic-change signal in flood discharge observations in Europe 3, because of the limited spatial coverage and number of hydrometric stations. Here we demonstrate clear regional patterns of both increases and decreases in observed river flood discharges in the past five decades in Europe, which are manifestations of a changing climate. Our results—arising from the most complete database of European flooding so far—suggest that: increasing autumn and winter rainfall has resulted in increasing floods in northwestern Europe; decreasing precipitation and increasing evaporation have led to decreasing floods in medium and large catchments in southern Europe; and decreasing snow cover and snowmelt, resulting from warmer temperatures, have led to decreasing floods in eastern Europe. Regional flood discharge trends in Europe range from an increase of about 11 per cent per decade to a decrease of 23 per cent. Notwithstanding the spatial and temporal heterogeneity of the observational record, the flood changes identified here are broadly consistent with climate model projections for the next century 4,5, suggesting that climate-driven changes are already happening and supporting calls for the consideration of climate change in flood risk management.
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- Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering - Senior Lecturer
- Centre for Infrastructure, Geotechnical and Water Engineering Research (IGWE)
- Water Innovation and Research Centre (WIRC)
- Research Unit for Water, Environment and Infrastructure Resilience (WEIR)
- EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Statistical Applied Mathematics (SAMBa)
- Institute for Mathematical Innovation (IMI)
Person: Research & Teaching