‘Unprecedented’ storms and floods are more common than we think

The recent flooding in north-west England during December, described as ‘unprecedented’ by many sources, are more common than we think according to a group of scientists.

Researchers from the Universities of Aberystwyth, Cambridge and Glasgow have drawn on palaeoflood deposits in the UK uplands to better place the 21st-century floods within the context of hundreds of years – far longer than more-commonly analysed river flow records which typically extend around 30-40 years.

Professor Mark Macklin, an expert in river flooding and climate change impacts at Aberystwyth University, said: “UK documentary records and old flood deposits dating back hundreds of years indicate that these floods are not unprecedented, which means we are grossly underestimating flood risk and endangering peoples’ lives.

“In some areas, recent floods have either equalled or exceeded the largest recorded events and these incidences can be ascribed to climate variability in Atlantic margin weather systems.

He added: “Current approaches using flood frequency analysis and flood risk assessment based on 40-50 year long flow records are far shorter than the design life of most engineering structures and strategic flood risk planning approaches. They are not fit for purpose now, let alone in a changing climate.”

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This article was originally published in the University of Cambridge website. To view the full article, click here.