River floods Ireland
Ireland: Vulnerabilities - Present river flood risk
Many of the rivers draining upland areas have a rapid or ‘flashy’ response to orographically enhanced rainfall. Steep slopes and thin soils favour rapid flow pathways and water is rapidly transmitted to the channel network. The underlying geology of formations that surround the central lowlands is relatively impermeable which also leads to a flashy response. Such flooding occurs on a number of rivers including the Suir at Clonmel and Carrick-on-Suir, the Nore at Kilkenny and the Blackwater at Fermoy and Mallow (21).
The development of floodplain areas increases the numbers of industrial and domestic properties at risk. It is difficult to separate the relative effects of climate change and urban development of floodplain areas, but the combined effects mean that such flooding is likely to become a more common occurrence (21). A general upward trend in flood magnitude was detected in the south and west of Ireland for the period 1976–2009 (31) and for the period 1956–1995 (32).
Although flooding tends to occur mainly during the winter months it can occur at any time of the year. In August 1986, extreme rainfall associated with ‘Hurricane Charley’ and centred over the Wicklow Mountains caused widespread damage to parts of south Dublin. The Shannon dominates the drainage system of the central lowlands and has a long history of flooding. The predicted increase in winter runoff over much of its catchment under both future climate scenarios is likely to increase the extent and duration of flooding, which mainly affects rural areas (21).
Some of Ireland's flood defence assets were built quite some time ago and, while they still provide a level of protection, may not always be identified as a flood defence. The design standard of protection is probably not known, and their structural condition may be uncertain (27).
Many major settlements in Ireland are situated on estuaries. The effects of river floods during storms, particularly where these are coupled with marine surges, create notable flood events in these coastal settlements, as in the case of Cork (28).
Ireland: Vulnerabilities - Future river flood risk
The increase in winter precipitation may lead to a greater land area suffering from winter flooding which would have a major impact on the choice of land use with the anticipated changes in climate (21).
The land area can be roughly divided into two zones by an axis running from the north-east to the south-west. To the west of this an increase in winter runoff, of between 0.1 and 11%, is seen and to the east runoff decreases by up to 25%. This could have consequences for river basins that already have a history of winter flooding, most notably the Shannon (21). Turloughs in western Ireland will also be particularly vulnerable to these changes (22).
Design of flood defences and flood relief schemes to date was based ultimately on historic weather records and assumed that the same patterns would continue. However, the changes we expect with climate change mean that many existing flood defences will not be able to provide the same level of protection as when they were built (27).
Europe: casualties in the past
The annual number of reported flood disasters in Europe increased considerably in 1973-2002 (1). A disaster was defined here as causing the death of at least ten people, or affecting seriously at least 100 people, or requiring immediate emergency assistance. The total number of reported victims was 2626 during the whole period, the most deadly floods occurred in Spain in 1973 (272 victims), in Italy in 1998 (147 victims) and in Russia in 1993 (125 victims) (2).
Throughout the 20th century as a whole flood-related deaths have been either stable or decreasing while economic burdens of flooding and related societal disruptions have become decidedly worse. 20th century flood disaster death tolls have been typically averaging fewer than 250 per year (3).
Europe: flood losses in the past
The reported damages also increased. Three countries had damages in excess of €10 billion (Italy, Spain, Germany), three in excess of 5 billion (United Kingdom, Poland, France) (2).
Expressed in 2006 US$ normalised values, total flood losses over the 1970–2006 period amounted to 140 billion, with an average annual flood loss of 3.8 billion (4). Results show no detectable sign of human-induced climate change in normalised flood losses in Europe. There is evidence that societal change and economic development are the principal factors responsible for the increasing losses from natural disasters to date (5).
Policy makers should not expect an unequivocal answer to questions concerning the linkage between flood-disaster losses and anthropogenic climate change, as this field will very likely remain an important area of research for years to come. Longer time-series of losses are necessary for more conclusive results (6).
Europe: flood frequency trends in the past
In 2012 the IPCC concluded that there is limited to medium evidence available to assess climate-driven observed changes in the magnitude and frequency of floods at a regional scale because the available instrumental records of floods at gauge stations are limited in space and time, and because of confounding effects of changes in land use and engineering. Furthermore, there is low agreement in this evidence, and thus overall low confidence at the global scale regarding even the sign of these changes. There is low confidence (due to limited evidence) that anthropogenic climate change has affected the magnitude or frequency of floods, though it has detectably influenced several components of the hydrological cycle such as precipitation and snowmelt (medium confidence to high confidence), which may impact flood trends (29).
Despite the considerable rise in the number of reported major flood events and economic losses caused by floods in Europe over recent decades, no significant general climate‑related trend in extreme high river flows that induce floods has yet been detected (7).
Hydrological data series do not indicate clear upward trends in the frequency and magnitude of floods in Europe. The direct anthropogenic causes include land use change, river channel modifications and increased activities in areas vulnerable to floods. Thousands of square kilometres of impermeable surfaces have been created, coastal urbanization has been extensive. The overall impact of these changes probably exceeds the impact of trends in meteorological variables in today's Europe (8).
In western and central Europe, annual and monthly mean river flow series appear to have been stationary over the 20th century (9). In mountainous regions of central Europe, however, the main identified trends are an increase in annual river flow due to increases in winter, spring and autumn river flow. In southern parts of Europe, a slightly decreasing trend in annual river flow has been observed (10).
In the Nordic countries, snowmelt floods have occurred earlier because of warmer winters (11). In Portugal, changed precipitation patterns have resulted in larger and more frequent floods during autumn but a decline in the number of floods in winter and spring (12). Comparisons of historic climate variability with flood records suggest, however, that many of the changes observed in recent decades could have resulted from natural climatic variation. Changes in the terrestrial system, such as urbanisation, deforestation, loss of natural floodplain storage, as well as river and flood management have also strongly affected flood occurrence (13).
Europe: projections for the future
In 2012 the IPCC concluded that considerable uncertainty remains in the projections of flood changes, especially regarding their magnitude and frequency. They concluded, therefore, that there is low confidence (due to limited evidence) in future changes in flood magnitude and frequency derived from river discharge simulations. Projected precipitation and temperature changes imply possible changes in floods, although overall there is low confidence in projections of changes in fluvial floods. Confidence is low due to limited evidence and because the causes of regional changes are complex, although there are exceptions to this statement. There is medium confidence (based on physical reasoning) that projected increases in heavy rainfall would contribute to increases in rain-generated local flooding, in some catchments or regions. Earlier spring peak flows in snowmelt- and glacier-fed rivers are very likely, but there is low confidence in their projected magnitude (29).
More frequent flash floods
Although there is as yet no proof that the extreme flood events of recent years are a direct consequence of climate change, they may give an indication of what can be expected: the frequency and intensity of floods in large parts of Europe is projected to increase (14). In particular, flash and urban floods, triggered by local intense precipitation events, are likely to be more frequent throughout Europe (15).
More frequent floods in the winter
Flood hazard will also probably increase during wetter and warmer winters, with more frequent rain and less frequent snow (16). Even in regions where mean river flows will drop significantly, as in the Iberian Peninsula, the projected increase in precipitation intensity and variability may cause more floods.
Reduction spring snowmelt floods
In snow‑dominated regions such as the Alps, the Carpathian Mountains and northern parts of Europe, spring snowmelt floods are projected to decrease due to a shorter snow season and less snow accumulation in warmer winters (17). Earlier snowmelt and reduced summer precipitation will reduce river flows in summer (18), when demand is typically highest.
For the period 2071-2100 the general feature is a decrease of extreme flows in areas where snowmelt floods are dominating in the present climate. The hundred year floods will attenuate by 10-50% in northern Russia, Finland and most mountainous catchments throughout Europe. An increase by similar amount is projected in large areas elsewhere, whereas a mixed pattern is likely in Sweden, Germany and the Iberian Peninsula (2).
Increase flood losses
Losses from river flood disasters in Europe have worsened in recent years and climate change is expected to exacerbate this trend. The PESETA study, for example, estimates that by the 2080s, some 250-400 million Europeans could be affected each year (compared with 200 million in the period between 1961 and 1990). At the same time, annual losses due to river flooding in Europe could rise to €8-15 billion by the end of the century compared with an average of €6 billion today (25).
From an assessment of the implications of climate change for future flood damage and people exposed by floods in Europe it was concluded that the expected annual damages (EAD) and expected annual population exposed (EAP) will see an increase in several countries in Europe in the coming century (30). Most notable increases in flood losses across the different climate futures are projected for countries in Western Europe (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom), as well as for Hungary and Slovakia. A consistent decrease across the scenarios is projected for northern countries (Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Sweden). For EU27 as a whole, current EAD of approximately €6.4 billion is projected to at least double or triple by the end of this century (in today’s prices), depending on the scenario. Changes in EAP reflect well the changes in EAD, and for EU27 an additional 250,000 to nearly 400,000 people are expected to be affected by flooding yearly, depending on the scenario. The authors stress that the monetary estimates of flood damage are uncertain because of several assumptions underlying the calculations (only two emission scenarios, only two regional climate models driven by two general circulation models, no discounting of inflation to future damages, no growth in exposed values and population or adjustments, estimates of flood protection standards); the results are indicative of changes in flood damage due to climate change, however, rather than estimates of absolute values of flood damage (30).
Large differences across Europe
Annual river flow is projected to decrease in southern and south-eastern Europe and increase in northern and north-eastern Europe (19).
Strong changes are also projected in the seasonality of river flows, with large differences across Europe. Winter and spring river flows are projected to increase in most parts of Europe, except for the most southern and south-eastern regions. In summer and autumn, river flows are projected to decrease in most of Europe, except for northern and north-eastern regions where autumn flows are projected to increase (20). Predicted reductions in summer flow are greatest for southern and south-eastern Europe, in line with the predicted increase in the frequency and severity of drought in this region.
Climate-related changes in flood frequency are complex and dependent on the flood generating mechanism (e.g. heavy rainfall vs spring snowmelt), affected in different ways by climate change. Hence, in the regions where floods can be caused by several possible mechanisms, the net effect of climate change on flood risk is not trivial and a general and ubiquitously valid, flat-rate statement on change in flood risk cannot be made (26).
Flood risk tends to increase over many areas owing to a range of climatic and non-climatic impacts, whose relative importance is site-specific. Flood risk is controlled by a number of non-climatic factors, such as changes in economic and social systems, and in terrestrial systems (hydrological systems and ecosystems). Land-use changes, which induce land-cover changes, control the rainfall-runoff relations in the drainage basin. Deforestation, urbanization and reduction of wetlands diminish the available water-storage capacity and increase the runoff coefficient, leading to growth in the flow amplitude and reduction of the time-to-peak. Furthermore, in many regions, people have been encroaching into, and developing, flood-prone areas, thereby increasing the damage potential. Important factors of relevance to flood risk are population and economy growth, flood protection strategy, flood risk awareness (or flood risk ignorance) behaviour and a compensation culture (26).
Adaptation strategies Ireland
Local Authorities now have the power to consider adaptation initiatives in relation to their development plans. The Planning and Development Act 2000, empowers planning authorities to provide, in their development plans, that development in areas at risk of flooding may be regulated, restricted or controlled. If development is proposed in a flood-risk area, the risk of flooding can be carefully evaluated and planning permission refused, if necessary (23).
A robust methodology must be developed to delineate floodplains, taking account of the most up-to-date estimates of the effects of climate change (27).
Guidelines published to support planners, should be rigorously implemented in prohibiting inappropriate development in areas subject to high risk of flooding. The guidelines should be revised as new information on climate change becomes available. Adherence to the guidelines should be monitored by Government and formally reported (27).
A strategy to manage flood risk is being implemented that involves non-structural measures such as raising awareness of flood risk, including through the flood mapping website (www.floodmaps.ie), and promoting preparedness and effective emergency response planning as well as better flood forecasting and warning. It also includes structural works, such as flood relief schemes, particularly where flooding is already a problem (24).
Adaptation strategies - EU Directive on flood risk management
The new EU Directive on flood risk management, which entered into force in November 2006, introduces new instruments to manage risks from flooding, and is thus highly relevant in the context of adaptation to climate change impacts. The Directive introduces a three-step approach (2):
- Member States have to undertake a preliminary assessment of flood risk in river basins and coastal zones.
- Where significant risk is identified, flood hazard maps and flood risk maps have to be developed.
- Flood risk management plans must be developed for these zones. These plans have to include measures that will reduce the potential adverse consequences of flooding for human health, the environment cultural heritage and economic activity, and they should focus on prevention, protection and preparedness.
The references below are cited in full in a separate map 'References'. Please click here if you are looking for the full references for Ireland.
- Hoyois and Guha-Sapir (2003), In: Anderson (ed.) (2007)
- Anderson (ed.) (2007)
- Mitchell (2003)
- Barredo (2009)
- Höppe and Pielke Jr. (2006); Schiermeier (2006), both in: Barredo (2009)
- Höppe and Pielke Jr. (2006), in: Barredo (2009)
- Becker and Grunewald (2003); Glaser and Stangl (2003); Mudelsee et al.(2003); Kundzewicz et al.(2005); Pinter et al.(2006); Hisdal et al.(2007); Macklin and Rumsby (2007), all in: EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
- EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
- Wang et al.(2005), in: EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
- Milly et al. (2005), in: EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
- Hisdal et al. (2007), in: EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
- Ramos and Reis (2002), in: EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
- Barnolas and Llasat (2007), in: EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
- Lehner et al.(2006); Dankers and Feyen (2008b), both in: EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
- Christensen and Christensen (2003); Kundzewicz et al.(2006), both in: EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
- Palmer and Räisänen (2002), in: EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
- Kay et al. (2006); Dankers and Feyen (2008), in: EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
- Andréasson, et al. (2004); Jasper et al.(2004); Barnett et al.(2005), all in: EEA (2009)
- Arnell (2004); Milly et al. (2005); Alcamo et al. (2007); Environment Agency (2008a), all in: EEA (2009)
- Dankers and Feyen (2008), in: EEA (2009)
- Environmental Protection Agency (2003)
- Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government
- Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (2007)
- Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (2010)
- Ciscar et al. (2009), in: Behrens et al. (2010)
- Kundzewicz (2006)
- Irish Academy of Engineering (2009)
- Devoy (2000b); Hickey (1990), both in: Devoy (2008)
- IPCC (2012)
- Feyen et al. (2012)
- Murphy et al. (2013), in: Mediero et al. (2014)
- Mediero et al. (2015)