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Journal Article

Challenges in the attribution of river flood events


Scussolini,  Paolo
External Organizations;

Luu,  Linh Nhat
External Organizations;

Philip,  Sjoukje
External Organizations;

Berghuijs,  Wouter R.
External Organizations;

Eilander,  Dirk
External Organizations;

Aerts,  Jeroen C. J. H.
External Organizations;

Kew,  Sarah F.
External Organizations;

van Oldenborgh,  Geert Jan
External Organizations;

Toonen,  Willem H. J.
External Organizations;


Volkholz,  Jan
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;

Coumou,  Dim
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Scussolini, P., Luu, L. N., Philip, S., Berghuijs, W. R., Eilander, D., Aerts, J. C. J. H., Kew, S. F., van Oldenborgh, G. J., Toonen, W. H. J., Volkholz, J., Coumou, D. (2024): Challenges in the attribution of river flood events. - Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 15, 3, e874.

Cite as: https://publications.pik-potsdam.de/pubman/item/item_29425
Advances in the field of extreme event attribution allow to estimate how anthropogenic global warming affects the odds of individual climate disasters, such as river floods. Extreme event attribution typically uses precipitation as proxy for flooding. However, hydrological processes and antecedent conditions make the relation between precipitation and floods highly nonlinear. In addition, hydrology acknowledges that changes in floods can be strongly driven by changes in land-cover and by other human interventions in the hydrological system, such as irrigation and construction of dams. These drivers can either amplify, dampen or outweigh the effect of climate change on local flood occurrence. Neglecting these processes and drivers can lead to incorrect flood attribution. Including flooding explicitly, that is, using data and models of hydrology and hydrodynamics that can represent the relevant hydrological processes, will lead to more robust event attribution, and will account for the role of other drivers beyond climate change. Existing attempts are incomplete. We argue that the existing probabilistic framework for extreme event attribution can be extended to explicitly include floods for near-natural cases, where flood occurrence was unlikely to be influenced by land-cover change and human hydrological interventions. However, for the many cases where this assumption is not valid, a multi-driver framework for conditional event attribution needs to be established. Explicit flood attribution will have to grapple with uncertainties from lack of observations and compounding from the many processes involved. Further, it requires collaboration between climatologists and hydrologists, and promises to better address the needs of flood risk management.