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The impacts of climate change on river flood risk at the global scale

Arnell, N. W. and Gosling, S. N. (2016) The impacts of climate change on river flood risk at the global scale. Climatic Change, 134 (3). pp. 387-401. ISSN 0165-0009

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To link to this article DOI: 10.1007/s10584-014-1084-5


This paper presents an assessment of the implications of climate change for global river flood risk. It is based on the estimation of flood frequency relationships at a grid resolution of 0.5 × 0.5°, using a global hydrological model with climate scenarios derived from 21 climate models, together with projections of future population. Four indicators of the flood hazard are calculated; change in the magnitude and return period of flood peaks, flood-prone population and cropland exposed to substantial change in flood frequency, and a generalised measure of regional flood risk based on combining frequency curves with generic flood damage functions. Under one climate model, emissions and socioeconomic scenario (HadCM3 and SRES A1b), in 2050 the current 100-year flood would occur at least twice as frequently across 40 % of the globe, approximately 450 million flood-prone people and 430 thousand km2 of flood-prone cropland would be exposed to a doubling of flood frequency, and global flood risk would increase by approximately 187 % over the risk in 2050 in the absence of climate change. There is strong regional variability (most adverse impacts would be in Asia), and considerable variability between climate models. In 2050, the range in increased exposure across 21 climate models under SRES A1b is 31–450 million people and 59 to 430 thousand km2 of cropland, and the change in risk varies between −9 and +376 %. The paper presents impacts by region, and also presents relationships between change in global mean surface temperature and impacts on the global flood hazard. There are a number of caveats with the analysis; it is based on one global hydrological model only, the climate scenarios are constructed using pattern-scaling, and the precise impacts are sensitive to some of the assumptions in the definition and application.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Interdisciplinary centres and themes > Walker Institute
Faculty of Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > Department of Meteorology
ID Code:36395
Additional Information:This article is part of a Special Issue on “The QUEST-GSI Project” edited by Nigel Arnell.

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