New research led by the University of Central Florida and in partnership with the University of Southampton has shown that extreme storms that were thought to occur only once every 100 years could start to occur every decade or even up to every year around the world’s coastlines by 2050.
Extreme events are expected to occur with a higher frequency as rising sea levels combine with high tides and storm surges to produce deadly storms, putting coastline settlements in danger. With the UK as one of the locations thought to be at particular risk, rising sea levels could mean we will see a repeat of the 1953 North Sea Flood, which killed 307 people and made 30,000 people homeless in the UK alone.
Robert Nicholls, a Professor in Coastal Engineering at the University of Southampton, highlighted the importance of the response made by the UK government following this deadly storm but warns that we can’t afford to become complacent,
In the UK, the damage we have seen from recent storm events has been limited compared to the tragedy of January 1953…and this is thanks to significant Government investment in coastal defences, flood forecasting and sea level monitoring.
Our study has shown that extreme sea levels will increase dramatically in coming decades. It is therefore vital we continue to invest in defences, forecasting and monitoring.
The UK wasn’t the only area specified as high risk – large parts of the rest of Europe, Australia and the USA were also highlighted as in danger. As up to 310 million people currently reside in these coastal areas, coastal storms already cause up to tens of billions of US$ per year in damages.
With sea levels rising further, this number is only going to increase, meaning that tackling this problem is going to have to be an international effort. If no action is taken to mitigate these effects, the research warns that annual damages could make up 10% of the global gross domestic product by 2100.
The research included the use of an extensive global tide gauge database which allowed researchers to quantify the processes of rising sea levels for the first time.
This ground-breaking research has meant that it isn’t all doom and gloom, Dr Ivan Haigh, co-author Associate Professor in Coastal Oceanography at the University of Southampton, commented:
Our new results have, for the first time, considered all of the main uncertainties in future predictions of extreme sea levels globally. This improves our confidence in what extreme sea levels might look like in coming decades and helps us to identify hotspot areas of major concern, where significant upgrades to flood protection and other measures are urgently needed.
With the results from this research, those in charge of flood defences will be able to evaluate where needs more funding and where will be at increasing risk in the future.