Brenden Jongman, Hessel C. Winsemius, Stuart A. Fraser, Sanne Muis, and Philip J. Ward
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Natural Hazard Science. Please check back later for the full article.
Flooding of rivers and coastlines is the most frequent and damaging of all natural hazards. Between 1980 and 2013, total direct damages exceeded $1 trillion, and at least 220,000 people lost their lives. Events with major economic losses include the 2011 flooding in Thailand ($40 billion) and the 2013 Central Europe floods ($16 billion). Flooding also triggers great humanitarian challenges. The 2015 Malawi floods were the worst in the country’s history and were followed by food shortages across large parts of the country.
Flood losses are increasing rapidly in some world regions, driven by economic development in floodplains and increases in extreme precipitation events and global sea level due to climate change. The biggest increase in flood losses is seen in low-income countries, where population growth is rapid and many cities are expanding quickly. At the same time, evidence shows that adaptation to flood risk is already happening, and that a large proportion of losses can be successfully contained by effective risk management strategies. Such risk management strategies may include floodplain zoning, construction and maintenance of flood defenses, reforestation of land draining into rivers, and use of early warning systems.
To reduce risk effectively, it is important to know the location and impact of potential floods, under current and future social and environmental conditions. In a risk assessment, models can be used to map the flow of water over land after an intense rainfall event or storm surge (the “hazard”). Modeled for many different potential events, this provides estimates of potential inundation depth in flood prone areas. Such maps can be constructed for different scenarios of climate change, based on changes in rainfall, temperature, and sea levels specified in climate change scenarios.
To assess the impact of the modeled hazard, that is, the cost of damage or lives lost, exposure (including buildings, population, and infrastructure) must be mapped using land-use and population density data, as well as construction information. Population growth and urban expansion can be simulated by increasing the density or extent of the urban area in the model. The effects of flood on people and on types of buildings and infrastructure are determined using a vulnerability function. This indicates the damage expected to occur to a structure (or group of people) as a function of flood intensity (i.e., inundation depth and flow velocity).
Potential adaptation measures such as land-use change or new flood defenses can be included in the model, to understand how effective they may be in reducing flood risk. This way, risk assessments can demonstrate the possible approaches available to policy makers to build a less risky future.
Evolution of Strategic Flood Risk Management in Support of Social Justice, Ecosystem Health, and Resilience
Throughout history, flood management practice has evolved in response to flood events. This heuristic approach has yielded some important incremental shifts in both policy and planning (from the need to plan at a catchment scale to the recognition that flooding arises from multiple sources and that defenses, no matter how reliable, fail). Progress, however, has been painfully slow and sporadic, but a new, more strategic, approach is now emerging.
A strategic approach does not, however, simply sustain an acceptable level of flood defence. Strategic Flood Risk Management (SFRM) is an approach that relies upon an adaptable portfolio of measures and policies to deliver outcomes that are socially just (when assessed against egalitarian, utilitarian, and Rawlsian principles), contribute positively to ecosystem services, and promote resilience. In doing so, SFRM offers a practical policy and planning framework to transform our understanding of risk and move toward a flood-resilient society. A strategic approach to flood management involves much more than simply reducing the chance of damage through the provision of “strong” structures and recognizes adaptive management as much more than simply “wait and see.” SFRM is inherently risk based and implemented through a continuous process of review and adaptation that seeks to actively manage future uncertainty, a characteristic that sets it apart from the linear flood defense planning paradigm based upon a more certain view of the future.
In doing so, SFRM accepts there is no silver bullet to flood issues and that people and economies cannot always be protected from flooding. It accepts flooding as an important ecosystem function and that a legitimate ecosystem service is its contribution to flood risk management. Perhaps most importantly, however, SFRM enables the inherent conflicts as well as opportunities that characterize flood management choices to be openly debated, priorities to be set, and difficult investment choices to be made.
Permafrost, or perennially frozen ground, and the processes linked to the water phase change in ground-pore media are sources of specific dangers to infrastructure and economic activity in cold mountainous regions. Additionally, conventional natural hazards (such as earthquakes, floods, and landslides) assume special characteristics in permafrost territories.
Permafrost hazards are created under two conditions. The first is a location with ice-bounded or water-saturated ground, in which the large amount of ice leads to potentially intensive processes of surface settlement or frost heaving. The second is linked with external, natural, and human-made disturbances that change the heat-exchange conditions. The places where ice-bounded ground meets areas that are subject to effective disturbances are the focus of hazard mapping and risk evaluation.
The fundamentals of geohazard evaluation and geohazard mapping in permafrost regions were originally developed by Gunnar Beskow, Vladimir Kudryavtsev, Troy Péwé, Oscar Ferrians, Jerry Brown, and other American, European, and Soviet authors from 1940s to the 1980s.
Modern knowledge of permafrost hazards was significantly enriched by the publication of Russian book called Permafrost Hazards, part of the six-volume series Natural Hazards in Russia (2000). The book describes, analyses, and evaluates permafrost-related hazards and includes methods for their modeling and mapping.
Simultaneous work on permafrost hazard evaluation continued in different countries with the active support of the International Permafrost Association. Prominent contributions during the new period of investigation were published by Drozdov, Clarke, Kääb, Pavlov, Koff and several other thematic groups of researchers. The importance of common international works became evident. The international project RiskNat: A Cross-Border European Project Taking into Account Permafrost-Related Hazards was developed as a new phenomenon in scientific development.
The intensive economic development in China presented new challenges for linear transportation routes and hydrologic infrastructures. A study of active fault lines and geological hazards along the Golmud–Lhasa Railway across the Tibetan plateau is a good example of the achievements by Chinese scientists.
The method for evaluating the permafrost hazards was based on survey data, monitoring data, and modeling results. The survey data reflected the current environmental conditions, and they are usually shown on a permafrost map. The monitoring data are helpful in understanding the current tendencies of permafrost evolution in different landscapes and regions. The modeling data provided a permafrost forecast that takes climate change and its impact on humans into account.
The International Conference on Permafrost in 2016, in Potsdam, Germany, demonstrated the new horizons of conventional and special permafrost mapping in offshore and continental areas. Permafrost hazards concern large and diverse aspects of human life. It is necessary to expand the approach to this problem from geology to also include geography, biology, social sciences, engineering, and other spheres of competencies in order to synthesize local and regional information. The relevance of this branch of science grows with taking into account climate change and the growing number of natural disasters.