Europe’s storm surge extremes match sea level rise

(ORDO NEWS) — Coastal communities around the world are already feeling the catastrophic effects of climate change in the form of fluctuations in extreme sea levels. These fluctuations reflect the combined effect of sea level rise and changes in storm surge activity.

Understanding the relative importance of these two factors in changing the likelihood of extreme events is critical to the success of coastal adaptation measures. Existing analyzes of tide gauge records agree that sea level rise is a significant factor in trends in sea level extremes since at least 1960.

However, the contribution of changes to storm activity remains unclear due to the difficulty of determining this contribution based on the scarce data and consequent inconclusive results that have accumulated in the literature.

Here, we analyze tide gauge data using spatial Bayesian methods to show that, contrary to current belief, extreme surge and sea level rise trends have been a comparable contributor to the overall change in extreme sea levels in Europe since 1960.

We determined that the extreme surge trend reflects the contribution of a dominant north-south dipole associated with internal climate variability and a positive one-sign trend associated with anthropogenic forcing.

Our results indicate that external and internal influences can significantly influence the likelihood of extreme surges over a 60-year period, suggesting that current coastal planning practices that assume stationary extreme surges may be inadequate.

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