A recent study on megafloods in Europe has been published in Nature Geoscience by a group of 56 international scientists led by researchers from the Institute of Hydraulic Engineering and Water Resources Management.
Megafloods that far exceed previously observed records often take citizens and experts by surprise, resulting in extremely severe damage and loss of life. Existing methods based on local and regional information rarely go beyond national borders and cannot predict these floods well because of limited data on megafloods, and because flood generation processes of extremes differ from those of smaller, more frequently observed events.
In this study the group analysed river discharge observations from over 8,000 gauging stations across Europe and showed that recent megafloods could have been anticipated from those previously observed in other places in Europe. Almost all observed megafloods (95.5%) fall within the envelope values estimated from previous floods in other similar places on the continent, implying that local surprises are not surprising at the continental scale. This holds also for older events, indicating that megafloods have not changed much in time relative to their spatial variability. The underlying concept of the study is that catchments with similar flood generation processes produce similar outliers. It is thus essential to transcend national boundaries and learn from other places across the continent to avoid surprises and save lives.