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Climate change and river flooding: Part 2 sensitivity characterisation for british catchments and example vulnerability assessments

Abstract

This paper is the second of a series describing a scenario-neutral methodology to assess the sensitivity and vulnerability of British catchments to changes in flooding due to climate change. In paper one, nine flood sensitivity types were identified from response surfaces generated for 154 catchments. The response surfaces describe changes in 20-year return period flood peaks (RP20) in response to a large set of changes in precipitation, temperature and potential evapotranspiration. In this paper, a recursive partitioning algorithm is used to link families of sensitivity types to catchment properties, via a decision tree. The tree shows 85 % success characterising the four sensitivity families, using five properties and nine paths. Catchment annual average rainfall is the primary partitioning factor, with drier catchments having a more variable response to climate (precipitation) change than wetter catchments and higher catchment losses and permeability being aggravating factors. The full sensitivity-exposure-vulnerability methodology is illustrated for two catchments: sensitivity is estimated by using the decision tree to identify the sensitivity family (and its associated average response surface); exposure is defined from a set of climate model projections and combined with the response surface to estimate the resulting impacts (changes in RP20); vulnerability under a range of adaptive capacity thresholds is estimated from the set of impacts. Even though they are geographically close, the two catchments show differing vulnerability to climate change, due to their differing properties. This demonstrates that generalised response surfaces characterised by catchment properties are useful screening tools to quantify the vulnerability of catchments to climate change without the need to undertake a full climate change impact study.

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Acknowledgements

The work presented in these papers was funded by Defra and the Environment Agency for England and Wales (FD2020 ‘Regionalised impacts of climate change on flood flows‘ and follow-up project FD2648 ‘Practicalities for implementing regionalised allowances for climate change on flood flows’) with additional contribution from the NERC-CEH Water science programme. They are all gratefully acknowledged. The development of the science benefited from helpful support from the project managers (Karl Hardy, Ella Thomason and Bill Donovan) and fruitful discussions with Prof. Rob Wilby, as well as from review by Prof. Nigel Arnell and Prof. Howard Wheater. Data were from CMIP3, CERA, IPCC-DDC, FEH and the UK National River Flow Archive. The views expressed are those of the authors and not of the funding organisations.

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Correspondence to Christel Prudhomme.

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Prudhomme, C., Kay, A.L., Crooks, S. et al. Climate change and river flooding: Part 2 sensitivity characterisation for british catchments and example vulnerability assessments. Climatic Change 119, 949–964 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-013-0726-3

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-013-0726-3

Keywords

  • Response Surface
  • Vulnerability Assessment
  • Flood Peak
  • Sensitivity Type
  • Climate Model Projection