Flood Hazard Management: British and International Perspectives

By John Handmer | Go to book overview

qualitative terms), in comparison with those in Australia-a nation still two years away from the bicentennial of European settlement.

This chapter attempts to put the problem in perspective by examining these somewhat hypothetical, but at first sight not unrealistic, perceptions of the British urban flood hazard. Where data are available they are used in an attempt to draw comparisons with other countries as well as in an absolute sense. Other points are examined and somewhat speculative hypotheses are developed on the basis of a short but intense immersion by the author in the British flood hazard management scene.


TYPES OF URBAN FLOODING

Any historical review of flooding in England and Wales demonstrates the importance of sea flooding (Potter, 1978). The 1953 east coast disaster when over 300 people drowned after the overtopping or collapse of numerous sea dykes or walls, and the expenditure of over 500 million pounds on the Thames Barrier are recent reminders of the scale of the risk.

In fact the bulk of property at risk from flooding and the greatest potential for a major flood catastrophe lies along the south-east coast. This particularly severe potential for flooding by the sea is a function of storm paths across the North Sea, the coastal configuration of Britain and Europe, and land subsidence. Atmospheric depressions moving eastwards over the North Atlantic cause a slight but widespread increase in local sea level due to reduced atmospheric pressure and wind friction over the water. As these depressions enter the North Sea, the extra water resulting from the sea level rise may be funnelled down towards the English Channel. As there is progressively less area available to store the additional water the height of the storm surge increases markedly southwards. The potential of flooding from this source is worsening as the south-east of England sinks slowly at a rate of about 30cm a century (Steers, 1981). Other local factors, such as ground-water table lowering may greatly aggravate this geomorphological process (Steers, 1981).

The west and south coasts of England and Wales are also subject to inundation by the sea as a result of storm induced sea level rises.

In all cases waves may substantially worsen the situation by causing a further rise in sea level or the breaching of natural or artificial defences. In addition local storms or other weather conditions may result in sea flooding by percolation through beach material. Occasionally, exceptionally large ocean swells of uncertain origin inundate settlements without warning e.g. Chiswell on the

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