UK’s flooding to get 15-35 percent more intense by 2080

Published:
Flooding on UK street

A study from Heriot-Watt University shows that the UK’s flooding could increase by an average of 15-35 percent by 2080.

Millions of people are affected by flooding every year in the UK, and the annual cost of the damage comes to £1.1 billion.

According to the Met Office, there have been 17 record-breaking rainfall months or seasons since 1910, nine of them since 2000. The extreme rainfall has led to a pattern of severe flooding. The 2015-16 winter floods were the worst on record.

The north and east of Scotland is facing a 34% increase in the magnitude of flood events, which is significant.

Dr Annie Visser-Quinn

Heriot-Watt researchers from the university’s Water Resilient Cities project say they have removed much of the uncertainty of extreme runoff, or flooding, projections.

Dr Annie Visser-Quinn, a data scientist at Heriot-Watt, said: “We used multiple datasets and methods and compared the results, using the most up-to-date data available.

“The estimates paint a concerning picture for the future UK flood landscape, especially when combined with increasing urbanisation."

Visser-Quinn and her colleagues looked at one in two year and one in 30 year events - the type of flooding that happens every two years, and the less common one in 30 years extreme event.

“Across the UK, we found that the magnitude of the one in two year event could increase by 15-35%.

“The north and east of Scotland is facing a 34% increase in the magnitude of flood events, which is significant.

“The north of England and Wales are similarly high at 25-28%.

“London and the Midlands have the lowest percentage increase. The magnitude of their one in two year events will increase by 18%. Even a small increase can have a profound impact on urban areas.”

The scientists are unable to say whether the scale of one in 30 year events will increase.

Visser-Quinn said: “We couldn’t get the different models to agree on those more unusual,extreme events, so there is still uncertainty there.

“However, we do think the bigger change will occur in the south and south west of England. That’s concerning given these are the more extreme events.

“Robust modelling will help improve our flood preparedness, which is why this work is essential. New climate data coming out later this year should be investigated as quickly as possible to inform the UK’s flood protection policies.”

The study is published in the journal Geosciences.

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Sarah McDaid

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