Annual flood sensitivities to El Niño-Southern Oscillation at the global scale

Hydrology and Earth System Sciences
By: , and 



Floods are amongst the most dangerous natural hazards in terms of economic damage. Whilst a growing number of studies have examined how river floods are influenced by climate change, the role of natural modes of interannual climate variability remains poorly understood. We present the first global assessment of the influence of El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) on annual river floods, defined here as the peak daily discharge in a given year. The analysis was carried out by simulating daily gridded discharges using the WaterGAP model (Water – a Global Assessment and Prognosis), and examining statistical relationships between these discharges and ENSO indices. We found that, over the period 1958–2000, ENSO exerted a significant influence on annual floods in river basins covering over a third of the world's land surface, and that its influence on annual floods has been much greater than its influence on average flows. We show that there are more areas in which annual floods intensify with La Niña and decline with El Niño than vice versa. However, we also found that in many regions the strength of the relationships between ENSO and annual floods have been non-stationary, with either strengthening or weakening trends during the study period. We discuss the implications of these findings for science and management. Given the strong relationships between ENSO and annual floods, we suggest that more research is needed to assess relationships between ENSO and flood impacts (e.g. loss of lives or economic damage). Moreover, we suggest that in those regions where useful relationships exist, this information could be combined with ongoing advances in ENSO prediction research, in order to provide year-to-year probabilistic flood risk forecasts.
Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Annual flood sensitivities to El Niño-Southern Oscillation at the global scale
Series title Hydrology and Earth System Sciences
DOI 10.5194/hess-18-47-2014
Volume 18
Year Published 2013
Language English
Publisher European Geophysical Society
Publisher location Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany
Contributing office(s) National Research Program - Western Branch
Description 20 p.
Larger Work Type Article
Larger Work Subtype Journal Article
Larger Work Title Hydrology and Earth System Sciences
First page 47
Last page 66
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