29 May 2015

Assessing flood risk at the global scale: model setup, results, and sensitivity

Globally, economic losses from flooding exceeded $19 billion in 2012, and are rising rapidly. Hence, there is an increasing need for global-scale flood risk assessments, also within the context of integrated global assessments. We have developed and validated a model cascade for producing global flood risk maps, based on numerous flood return-periods. Validation results indicate that the model simulates interannual fluctuations in flood impacts well. The cascade involves: hydrological and hydraulic modelling; extreme value statistics; inundation modelling; flood impact modelling; and estimating annual expected impacts. The initial results estimate global impacts for several indicators, for example annual expected exposed population (169 million); and annual expected exposed GDP ($1383 billion). These results are relatively insensitive to the extreme value distribution employed to estimate low frequency flood volumes. However, they are extremely sensitive to the assumed flood protection standard; developing a database of such standards should be a research priority. Also, results are sensitive to the use of two different climate forcing datasets. The impact model can easily accommodate new, user-defined, impact indicators. We envisage several applications, for example: identifying risk hotspots; calculating macro-scale risk for the insurance industry and large companies; and assessing potential benefits (and costs) of adaptation measures.

Keywords: flood risk, global modelling, global scale, flooding, risk assessment

Philip J Ward, Brenden Jongman, Frederiek Sperna Weiland, Arno Bouwman, Rens van Beek, Marc F P Bierkens, Willem Ligtvoet and Hessel C Winsemius ; Environ. Res. Lett. 8 (2013) 044019 (10pp)