Estimating present day extreme water level exceedance probabilities around the coastline of Australia: tides, extra-tropical storm surges and mean sea level

Abstract

The occurrence of extreme water levels along low-lying, highly populated and/or developed coastlines can lead to considerable loss of life and billions of dollars of damage to coastal infrastructure. Therefore it is vitally important that the exceedance probabilities of extreme water levels are accurately evaluated to inform risk-based flood management, engineering and future land-use planning. This ensures the risk of catastrophic structural failures due to under-design or expensive wastes due to over-design are minimised. This paper estimates for the first time present day extreme water level exceedence probabilities around the whole coastline of Australia. A high-resolution depth averaged hydrodynamic model has been configured for the Australian continental shelf region and has been forced with tidal levels from a global tidal model and meteorological fields from a global reanalysis to generate a 61-year hindcast of water levels. Output from this model has been successfully validated against measurements from 30 tide gauge sites. At each numeric coastal grid point, extreme value distributions have been fitted to the derived time series of annual maxima and the several largest water levels each year to estimate exceedence probabilities. This provides a reliable estimate of water level probabilities around southern Australia; a region mainly impacted by extra-tropical cyclones. However, as the meteorological forcing used only weakly includes the effects of tropical cyclones, extreme water level probabilities are underestimated around the western, northern and north-eastern Australian coastline. In a companion paper we build on the work presented here and more accurately include tropical cyclone-induced surges in the estimation of extreme water level. The multi-decadal hindcast generated here has been used primarily to estimate extreme water level exceedance probabilities but could be used more widely in the future for a variety of other research and practical applications.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank the Australian National Tidal Centre, Western Australian Department of Transport, Sydney Ports Corporation and Fremantle Ports for supplying the tide-gauge datasets, Tessa Jakszewicz for managing the project, and Matthew Eliot for useful discussions regarding the study. We would also like to acknowledge Kathleen McInnes, Robert Nicholls, Thomas Wahl and an anonymous reviewer whose helpful comments and suggestions greatly improved the final paper. This study was funded by the Australian Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency and the Western Australian Department of Transport, and builds on an earlier study funded by the Western Australian Marine Science Institution.

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Haigh, I.D., Wijeratne, E.M.S., MacPherson, L.R. et al. Estimating present day extreme water level exceedance probabilities around the coastline of Australia: tides, extra-tropical storm surges and mean sea level. Clim Dyn 42, 121–138 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00382-012-1652-1

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Keywords

  • Extreme water levels
  • Storm surges
  • Tides
  • Extra-tropical cyclones
  • Tropical cyclones
  • Hurricanes
  • Return levels
  • Return periods
  • Australia