Greenhouse emissions added to risk of autumn 2000 floods

Thursday 17th Feb 2011 by theWeather Club

In autumn 2000, during Britain's wettest September-November period since records began, widespread flooding caused significant damage to large parts of England and Wales. Just under 10,000 properties were flooded at over 700 locations, with around 11,000 families forced to evacuate their homes. New research published today in the journal Nature suggests that greenhouse emissions caused by human activity were likely to have made a significant contribution to these floods.

The study, carried out by researchers at Oxford University, used a sophisticated climate model developed at the Met Office Hadley Centre to compare the weather as it was in September-November 2000 to how it would have been had there been no fossil fuel emissions in the previous century. The simulations were repeated thousands of times using a global network of PCs belonging to volunteers participating in the climateprediction.net project.

The team found that 20th century greenhouse gas emissions were likely to have increased the probability of the floods occuring by 90%, and were very likely to have done so by 20%.

Co-author and Met Office scientist Dr Peter Stott said: "This study is the first step toward near real-time attribution of extreme weather, untangling natural variability from man-made climate change. This research establishes a methodology that can answer the question about how the odds of particular weather events may be altering. It will also allow us to say, shortly after it has occurred, if a specific weather event has been made more likely by climate change, and equally importantly if it has not."

Lord Henley, environment minister, added: "I welcome this research which is the first to attribute how rising greenhouse gas concentrations may increase the chance of a particular flood. This work reinforces the scientific evidence on the need for the UK to tackle climate change, and to increase our resilience to the challenges climate change will bring from extreme weather events."

Members of the public can participate in follow-up studies, supported by Microsoft Research, Oxford University's Smith School for Enterprise, the Met Office and the Environment and the Natural Environment Research Council, which will use similar methods to assess how carbon emissions might have played a part in other major weather-related events around the world, including floods and droughts. Visit weatherathome.org to find out more.