Parts of northern Britain are experiencing some of the most severe floods in Europe, and it’s down to climate change.
These were the findings of the largest-scale study of its kind which analysed river flow data from thousands of locations over a 50-year period and found that flood events are becoming increasingly severe in north-western Europe, but decreasing in severity in southern and Eastern Europe.
The change ranges from an 11% increase per decade in flood levels in northern England and southern Scotland to a 23% reduction per decade in parts of Russia, with the researchers saying their findings provide the ‘clearest evidence yet’, at the European scale, of the link between climate change and flooding.
The study published in the journal Nature was led by the Vienna University of Technology and involved research institutions in 24 European countries, including the University, the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) and the University of Bath from the UK.
Scientists have long suspected that human-induced climate change is having an impact on the magnitude of floodwaters because a warmer atmosphere can store more water, although this is not the only factor leading to flood changes in a warming world.
However, until now, the extent to which climate change affects the severity of floods across Europe has not been clear because previous studies have been on a smaller scale due to a lack of access to data from parts of the continent.
Lead author, Professor Gnter Blschl of the Vienna University of Technology, said: ‘We already knew that climate change is shifting the timing of floods in a year, but the key question had been, Does climate change also control the magnitude of flood events?.
‘Our study did in fact find there are consistent patterns of flood change across Europe and these are in line with predicted climate change impacts, such as a contrast between increasing severity of flooding in the north and decreases in the south.’
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