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The variability of European floods since AD 1500

Abstract

The paper presents a qualitative and quantitative analysis of flood variability and forcing of major European rivers since AD 1500. We compile and investigate flood reconstructions which are based on documentary evidence for twelve Central European rivers and for eight Mediterranean rivers. Flood variability and underlying climatological causes are reconstructed by using hermeneutic approaches including critical source analysis and by applying a semi-quantitative classification scheme. The paper describes the driving climatic causes, seasonality and variability of observed flood events within the different river catchments covering the European mainland. Historical flood data are presented and recent research in the field of historical flood reconstructions is highlighted. Additionally, the character of the different flood series is discussed. A comparison of the historical flood seasonality in relation to modern distribution is given and aspects of the spatial coherence are presented. The comparative analysis points to the fact that the number of flood events is predominately triggered by regional climatic forcing, with at most only minor influence on neighbouring catchments. The only exceptions are extreme, supra-regional climatic events and conditions such as anomalous cold winters, similar to that of 1784, which affected large parts of Europe and triggered flood events in several catchments as a result of ice-break at the beginning of the annual thaw. Four periods of increased occurrence of flooding, mostly affecting Central European Rivers, have been identified; 1540–1600, 1640–1700, 1730–1790, 1790–1840. The reconstruction, compilation and analysis of European-wide flood data over the last five centuries reveal the complexity of the underlying climatological causes and the high variability of flood events in temporal and spatial dimension.

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Correspondence to Rüdiger Glaser.

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Glaser, R., Riemann, D., Schönbein, J. et al. The variability of European floods since AD 1500. Climatic Change 101, 235–256 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-010-9816-7

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Keywords

  • Flood Event
  • Flood Risk
  • Flood Frequency
  • Historical Flood
  • Flood Occurrence