Climate Change Is Altering the Magnitude of Floods Across Europe

(CN) – A team of European scientists has found climate change is fundamentally altering flooding events, and different regions of the continent are seeing the effects in different ways.

Flooding in August 2005 in Kappl-Nederle (Paznaun Valley, Tyrol), Austria.
(Photo: TU Wien/ASI/Land Tirol/BH Landeck)

A study, published Wednesday in the scientific journal Nature, chronicles a deep dive into the history of floods between 1960 and 2010 to better understand the patterns and trends of recent flooding events. Researchers specifically examined data from nearly 4,000 flood-monitoring stations spread throughout key parts of Europe, a research effort on floods that is one of the largest ever undertaken.

Günter Blöschl, researcher at the Vienna University of Technology and co-author of the study, and the team found the effects climate change has on flooding events are both dramatic and incredibly complex.

“There are 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,” Blöschl said in an email.

The study reports that more than just effecting the rate at which floods occur, climate change has taken a drastic toll on the sheer magnitude and severity of the floods in certain areas. Researchers report that in areas where precipitation is more common, floods have strengthened in volume and size, discharging more water than has previously been reported.

The study suggests, however, that while climate change has increased the rates and power of floods in some areas, it has had the opposite effect on other areas. Researchers believe different environmental and geographical conditions will respond in completely different ways to the influence climate change commands.

“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,” the authors wrote in the study.

Researchers state everything from soil salinity to average humidity levels play crucial roles in determining how climate change will alter the way flooding events occur. As global temperatures continue to rise, the individuality of regional environments must be considered when studying the flooding problem.

Blöschl believes we must use this data to help prepare for future floods.

“Flood protection measures and flood risk zoning need to account for the changes in flood magnitudes. Overall, an integrated flood risk management approach is needed that integrates a portfolio of diverse engineering and non-engineering instruments and adopts a river basin perspective in order to enhance the flood protection of people and the infrastructure,” Blöschl said.

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