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Concept: Flood


It has been proposed that ~3.4 billion years ago an ocean fed by enormous catastrophic floods covered most of the Martian northern lowlands. However, a persistent problem with this hypothesis is the lack of definitive paleoshoreline features. Here, based on geomorphic and thermal image mapping in the circum-Chryse and northwestern Arabia Terra regions of the northern plains, in combination with numerical analyses, we show evidence for two enormous tsunami events possibly triggered by bolide impacts, resulting in craters ~30 km in diameter and occurring perhaps a few million years apart. The tsunamis produced widespread littoral landforms, including run-up water-ice-rich and bouldery lobes, which extended tens to hundreds of kilometers over gently sloping plains and boundary cratered highlands, as well as backwash channels where wave retreat occurred on highland-boundary surfaces. The ice-rich lobes formed in association with the younger tsunami, showing that their emplacement took place following a transition into a colder global climatic regime that occurred after the older tsunami event. We conclude that, on early Mars, tsunamis played a major role in generating and resurfacing coastal terrains.

Concepts: Climate, Greek loanwords, Mars, Pacific Ocean, 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, Tsunami, Flood, Landform


The flood hazard in New York City depends on both storm surges and rising sea levels. We combine modeled storm surges with probabilistic sea-level rise projections to assess future coastal inundation in New York City from the preindustrial era through 2300 CE. The storm surges are derived from large sets of synthetic tropical cyclones, downscaled from RCP8.5 simulations from three CMIP5 models. The sea-level rise projections account for potential partial collapse of the Antarctic ice sheet in assessing future coastal inundation. CMIP5 models indicate that there will be minimal change in storm-surge heights from 2010 to 2100 or 2300, because the predicted strengthening of the strongest storms will be compensated by storm tracks moving offshore at the latitude of New York City. However, projected sea-level rise causes overall flood heights associated with tropical cyclones in New York City in coming centuries to increase greatly compared with preindustrial or modern flood heights. For the various sea-level rise scenarios we consider, the 1-in-500-y flood event increases from 3.4 m above mean tidal level during 1970-2005 to 4.0-5.1 m above mean tidal level by 2080-2100 and ranges from 5.0-15.4 m above mean tidal level by 2280-2300. Further, we find that the return period of a 2.25-m flood has decreased from ∼500 y before 1800 to ∼25 y during 1970-2005 and further decreases to ∼5 y by 2030-2045 in 95% of our simulations. The 2.25-m flood height is permanently exceeded by 2280-2300 for scenarios that include Antarctica’s potential partial collapse.

Concepts: Oceanography, Storm, New York City, Tropical cyclone, Antarctica, Flood, Storm surge, Weather hazards


Global climate change drives sea-level rise, increasing the frequency of coastal flooding. In most coastal regions, the amount of sea-level rise occurring over years to decades is significantly smaller than normal ocean-level fluctuations caused by tides, waves, and storm surge. However, even gradual sea-level rise can rapidly increase the frequency and severity of coastal flooding. So far, global-scale estimates of increased coastal flooding due to sea-level rise have not considered elevated water levels due to waves, and thus underestimate the potential impact. Here we use extreme value theory to combine sea-level projections with wave, tide, and storm surge models to estimate increases in coastal flooding on a continuous global scale. We find that regions with limited water-level variability, i.e., short-tailed flood-level distributions, located mainly in the Tropics, will experience the largest increases in flooding frequency. The 10 to 20 cm of sea-level rise expected no later than 2050 will more than double the frequency of extreme water-level events in the Tropics, impairing the developing economies of equatorial coastal cities and the habitability of low-lying Pacific island nations.

Concepts: Climate, Weather, Climate change, Wave, Solar variation, Flood, Tide, Storm surge


Coastal flood hazard varies in response to changes in storm surge climatology and the sea level. Here we combine probabilistic projections of the sea level and storm surge climatology to estimate the temporal evolution of flood hazard. We find that New York City’s flood hazard has increased significantly over the past two centuries and is very likely to increase more sharply over the 21st century. Due to the effect of sea level rise, the return period of Hurricane Sandy’s flood height decreased by a factor of ∼3× from year 1800 to 2000 and is estimated to decrease by a further ∼4.4× from 2000 to 2100 under a moderate-emissions pathway. When potential storm climatology change over the 21st century is also accounted for, Sandy’s return period is estimated to decrease by ∼3× to 17× from 2000 to 2100.

Concepts: Statistics, Oceanography, Storm, New York City, Tropical cyclone, 21st century, Flood, Storm surge


Longitudinal connectivity is a fundamental characteristic of rivers that can be disrupted by natural and anthropogenic processes. Dams are significant disruptions to streams. Over 2,000,000 low-head dams (<7.6 m high) fragment United States rivers. Despite potential adverse impacts of these ubiquitous disturbances, the spatial impacts of low-head dams on geomorphology and ecology are largely untested. Progress for research and conservation is impaired by not knowing the magnitude of low-head dam impacts. Based on the geomorphic literature, we refined a methodology that allowed us to quantify the spatial extent of low-head dam impacts (herein dam footprint), assessed variation in dam footprints across low-head dams within a river network, and identified select aspects of the context of this variation. Wetted width, depth, and substrate size distributions upstream and downstream of six low-head dams within the Upper Neosho River, Kansas, United States of America were measured. Total dam footprints averaged 7.9 km (3.0-15.3 km) or 287 wetted widths (136-437 wetted widths). Estimates included both upstream (mean: 6.7 km or 243 wetted widths) and downstream footprints (mean: 1.2 km or 44 wetted widths). Altogether the six low-head dams impacted 47.3 km (about 17%) of the mainstem in the river network. Despite differences in age, size, location, and primary function, the sizes of geomorphic footprints of individual low-head dams in the Upper Neosho river network were relatively similar. The number of upstream dams and distance to upstream dams, but not dam height, affected the spatial extent of dam footprints. In summary, ubiquitous low-head dams individually and cumulatively altered lotic ecosystems. Both characteristics of individual dams and the context of neighboring dams affected low-head dam impacts within the river network. For these reasons, low-head dams require a different, more integrative, approach for research and management than the individualistic approach that has been applied to larger dams.

Concepts: United States, River, Individualism, Dam, Flood, Geomorphology, Sediment transport, Levee


Assessing the probability of very low or high water levels is an important issue in the management of hydroelectric dams. In the case of the Akosombo dam, very low and high water levels result in load shedding of electrical power and flooding in communities downstream respectively. In this paper, we use extreme value theory to estimate the probability and return period of very low water levels that can result in load shedding or a complete shutdown of the dam’s operations. In addition, we assess the probability and return period of high water levels near the height of the dam and beyond. This provides a framework for a possible extension of the dam to sustain the generation of electrical power and reduce the frequency of spillage that causes flooding in communities downstream. The results show that an extension of the dam can reduce the probability and prolong the return period of a flood. In addition, we found a negligible probability of a complete shutdown of the dam due to inadequate water level.

Concepts: Dam, Flood, Hydroelectricity, Three Gorges Dam, Tidal power, Hydropower


Caldera-forming eruptions of island volcanoes generate tsunamis by the interaction of different eruptive phenomena with the sea. Such tsunamis are a major hazard, but forward models of their impacts are limited by poor understanding of source mechanisms. The caldera-forming eruption of Santorini in the Late Bronze Age is known to have been tsunamigenic, and caldera collapse has been proposed as a mechanism. Here, we present bathymetric and seismic evidence showing that the caldera was not open to the sea during the main phase of the eruption, but was flooded once the eruption had finished. Inflow of water and associated landsliding cut a deep, 2.0-2.5 km(3), submarine channel, thus filling the caldera in less than a couple of days. If, as at most such volcanoes, caldera collapse occurred syn-eruptively, then it cannot have generated tsunamis. Entry of pyroclastic flows into the sea, combined with slumping of submarine pyroclastic accumulations, were the main mechanisms of tsunami production.

Concepts: Volcano, Tsunami, Flood, Bronze Age, Volcanology, Caldera, Santorini, Ignimbrite


Coastal zones are exposed to a range of coastal hazards including sea-level rise with its related effects. At the same time, they are more densely populated than the hinterland and exhibit higher rates of population growth and urbanisation. As this trend is expected to continue into the future, we investigate how coastal populations will be affected by such impacts at global and regional scales by the years 2030 and 2060. Starting from baseline population estimates for the year 2000, we assess future population change in the low-elevation coastal zone and trends in exposure to 100-year coastal floods based on four different sea-level and socio-economic scenarios. Our method accounts for differential growth of coastal areas against the land-locked hinterland and for trends of urbanisation and expansive urban growth, as currently observed, but does not explicitly consider possible displacement or out-migration due to factors such as sea-level rise. We combine spatially explicit estimates of the baseline population with demographic data in order to derive scenario-driven projections of coastal population development. Our scenarios show that the number of people living in the low-elevation coastal zone, as well as the number of people exposed to flooding from 1-in-100 year storm surge events, is highest in Asia. China, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Viet Nam are estimated to have the highest total coastal population exposure in the baseline year and this ranking is expected to remain largely unchanged in the future. However, Africa is expected to experience the highest rates of population growth and urbanisation in the coastal zone, particularly in Egypt and sub-Saharan countries in Western and Eastern Africa. The results highlight countries and regions with a high degree of exposure to coastal flooding and help identifying regions where policies and adaptive planning for building resilient coastal communities are not only desirable but essential. Furthermore, we identify needs for further research and scope for improvement in this kind of scenario-based exposure analysis.

Concepts: Demography, Population, Population ecology, Population density, Demographic economics, World population, Flood, Carrying capacity


China’s historiographical traditions tell of the successful control of a Great Flood leading to the establishment of the Xia dynasty and the beginning of civilization. However, the historicity of the flood and Xia remain controversial. Here, we reconstruct an earthquake-induced landslide dam outburst flood on the Yellow River about 1920 BCE that ranks as one of the largest freshwater floods of the Holocene and could account for the Great Flood. This would place the beginning of Xia at ~1900 BCE, several centuries later than traditionally thought. This date coincides with the major transition from the Neolithic to Bronze Age in the Yellow River valley and supports hypotheses that the primary state-level society of the Erlitou culture is an archaeological manifestation of the Xia dynasty.

Concepts: China, Neolithic, Yellow River, Flood, Bronze Age, Xia Dynasty, Erlitou culture, Deluge


Sea-level rise is beginning to cause increased inundation of many low-lying coastal areas. While most of Earth’s coastal areas are at risk, areas that will be affected first are characterized by several additional factors. These include regional oceanographic and meteorological effects and/or land subsidence that cause relative sea level to rise faster than the global average. For catastrophic coastal flooding, when wind-driven storm surge inundates large areas, the relative contribution of sea-level rise to the frequency of these events is difficult to evaluate. For small scale “nuisance flooding,” often associated with high tides, recent increases in frequency are more clearly linked to sea-level rise and global warming. While both types of flooding are likely to increase in the future, only nuisance flooding is an early indicator of areas that will eventually experience increased catastrophic flooding and land loss. Here we assess the frequency and location of nuisance flooding along the eastern seaboard of North America. We show that vertical land motion induced by recent anthropogenic activity and glacial isostatic adjustment are contributing factors for increased nuisance flooding. Our results have implications for flood susceptibility, forecasting and mitigation, including management of groundwater extraction from coastal aquifers.

Concepts: Water, Oceanography, Coast, Geology, Flood, Tide, Storm surge, Thames Barrier