This project aims to increase public awareness of the risk of coastal flooding in Europe.
What is coastal flooding?
Coastal flooding is the inundation of coastal land which is otherwise dry. This can result from a variety of causes. Despite common belief, tsunamis only concur to a small percentage of inundation events worldwide, the great majority of which are generated by storm surges.
In Europe, coastal flooding is caused mainly by storm surges associated with mid-latitude storms. These events are the most frequent geophysical risk in coastal areas and are often associated with significant loss of properties and – in more severe cases – life.
What is a storm surge and how does it form?
A storm surge is an unexpected raise in sea water level generated by a storm. The low-pressure area near the storm’s eye reduces the weight of the air over the ocean. This creates a swell in the sea which is pushed towards the coast by the strong winds. As the storm approaches the coast, the combined effect of the low pressure and the violent winds makes the water pile up along the shore.
In Europe, storm surges alone usually do not generate coastal flooding. Coastal flooding occurs when a storm surge hits the shore together with high tides. To the coastal communities, the effect of the surge-tide coupling is the same as a small tsunami, despite the physics is very different.
BBC Weather presenter Matt Taylor explains how coastal flooding happens:
What are the effects?
The effects of a violent storm surge can be devastating. When hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, it generated a peak inundation of 8 metres in some places, leading to widespread flooding, severe damage and life losses.
European winter storms are usually not as powerful as hurricanes, yet they are able to generate inundations of several metres in height. Only during the first week of January 2014, more than 1,800 homes were flooded in Britain. The costs for flood recovery and rebuilding are very large. In February 2014, Insurance Ireland announced that the estimated cost of claims relating to storm damage and flooding in December and early January in Ireland is approximately €46 million.
Who is more at risk?
In Europe, coastal communities living near the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea are historically more at risk of coastal inundation during winter storms.
See which areas are more prone to coastal flooding in our Risk Map.
Who can help?
If you live in an affected area, see who can help.
This project falls within the scopes of the Research Grant “Underwater acoustic sensing for detection, early warning and increased risk awareness of storm surges with application to Ireland” funded by the AXA Research Fund at University College Dublin.
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