Magazine article Science News

Major Floods May Be Waning in Europe

Magazine article Science News

Major Floods May Be Waning in Europe

Article excerpt

In August 2002, parts of central Europe experienced unprecedented flooding after record rains fell upon saturated soils and brimming reservoirs. Damages on the continent added up to more than 25 billion Euros, and in Dresden, Germany, the Elbe River reached 9.4 meters above flood stage, a level not seen since the Middle Ages.

Despite the 2002 season, a new analysis by German researchers suggests that extreme summer floods in the region aren't becoming more frequent. In fact, the scientists say, widespread inundations have been on the wane for the past century or so.

For the study, team leader Manfred Mudelsee of the University of Leipzig in Germany and his coworkers considered regional floods along the central stretches of the Elbe and Oder Rivers dating back at least 700 years. The scientists culled data from historical archives and modern instruments, and they analyzed summer and winter floods separately because they have different causes.

Floods that occur from May through October typically arise during or just after long periods of precipitation, says Mudelsee. The frequency of such inundations hasn't changed significantly on the Elbe since 1820 or on the Oder since 1920. Other researchers have reported 10 major summer floods on the Elbe in the past 500 years, and 4 of those high-water events occurred between 1500 and 1550.

So-called winter floods in the region have declined, says Mudelsee. These cold-season floods are often caused by ice dams that form when frozen rivers break up in the spring. …

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