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No upward trends in the occurrence of extreme floods in central Europe

Nature volume 425, pages 166169 (11 September 2003) | Download Citation

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Abstract

Extreme river floods have been a substantial natural hazard in Europe over the past centuries1, and radiative effects of recent anthropogenic changes in atmospheric composition are expected to cause climate changes, especially enhancement of the hydrological cycle2, leading to an increased flood risk3,4. For the past few decades, however, observations from Europe1,5,6,7 do not show a clear increase in flood occurrence rate. Here we present longer-term records of winter and summer floods in two of the largest rivers in central Europe, the Elbe and Oder rivers. For the past 80 to 150 yr, we find a decrease in winter flood occurrence in both rivers, while summer floods show no trend, consistent with trends in extreme precipitation occurrence. The reduction in winter flood occurrence can partly be attributed to fewer events of strong freezing—following such events, breaking river ice at the end of the winter may function as a water barrier and enhance floods severely. Additionally, we detect significant long-term changes in flood occurrence rates in the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries, and conclude that reductions in river length, construction of reservoirs and deforestation have had minor effects on flood frequency.

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Acknowledgements

We thank J. Jacobeit, J. Luterbacher and M. Schulz for comments, and N. Conrads, H. Engel, W. Fröhlich, T. Lüllwitz, J. Munzar, R. Oppermann as well as GRDC (Germany) and NOAA (USA) for data. This work was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft.

Author information

Author notes

    • Manfred Mudelsee

    Present address: Department of Earth Sciences; Boston University, 685 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts 02215, USA

Affiliations

  1. Institute of Meteorology, University of Leipzig, Stephanstrasse 3, 04103 Leipzig, Germany

    • Manfred Mudelsee
    • , Michael Börngen
    •  & Gerd Tetzlaff
  2. Institute of Hydrology, Technical University Cottbus, PF 101344, 03103 Cottbus, Germany

    • Uwe Grünewald

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Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Manfred Mudelsee.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nature01928

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