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Southport Reporter® covering the news on Merseyside.

Date:- 30 July 2007

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Britain's Floods!
Photographs with thanks to ESA.

Photographs with thanks to ESA.  The Advanced Along Track Scanning Radiometer (AATSR)

WHY is Britain suffering from severe floods this summer? Will climate change bring more frequent and intense storms in the future? These questions have been on lots of lips over the last few weeks.

With Merseyside being under threat from flooding as the climate changes many of us should be taking note. Though the floods have been in other parts of the UK, the impact has been nationally felt and will remain felt for years to come with increased insurance prices. Also taking notes of the collapse in the basic infrastructure of the UK, that has not only affected local people but also local businesses in the areas affected and nationally.

For example here at Southport Reporter, we did not expect our servers to go down.

On 27 July 2007 The Natural Environment Research Council held a national press briefing where we were told that they are funding experiments by scientists in universities and its own research centres, to provide answers to these questions. The research data they produce helps to underpin many of the flood forecasts and defence mechanisms provided by organisations such as the Environment Agency.

The media was informed that The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) has carried out a preliminary assessment of the reasons behind the exceptional flooding we are currently experiencing in the UK. and have informed the media that:- "It appears there has been a combination of contributory factors - the jet stream has followed a route further south than usual, and the high pressure cell coming from the Azores has bypassed Britain. In addition, a sustained sequence of low-pressure systems over the past 12 weeks has produced exceptionally high rainfall levels. So while Britain suffers grey skies and prolonged flooding most of Europe basks in sunshine and high temperatures, which bring their own problems."

Professor Alan Jenkins, Director of the CEH Water Science Programme said that:- "The combined May and June rainfall total is the highest on record for the UK, by a considerable margin. Flood risk during the summer is usually diminished because the ground is dry. This year, because of the record rainfall in the late spring and early summer, accompanied by widespread flooding in June, the soils were so wet they couldn't cope with the heavy rain in July. Added to that, the intense rainfall overwhelmed many urban drainage systems, causing localised flash floods."

"An indication of the rarity of the hydrological conditions experienced this summer is provided by the recent increases in groundwater levels in some parts of eastern and southern England. Usually groundwater levels decline between May and September because there isless rainfall to replenish them. But this year groundwater levels in the Cotswolds rose rapidly and by 24 July stood above normal winter levels." CEH told us.

Image with thanks to ESA.  Radar image of UK floods. Image with thanks to ESA.  Highlighting the extreme weather conditions hitting the UK.

Professor Jenkins said:- "The July 2007 flooding is clearly an extreme event and, as such, difficult to link it with.." ...continued...

...continued... "...any trends in observational records or predictions associated with favoured climate scenarios.  It does serve to underline our vulnerability to very exceptional summer rainfall and the, as yet poorly understood, changes in the position of the jet stream."

You can view the full analysis on the CEH website website Recent_UK_floods The British Geological Survey (BGS) has also been working hard, we were informed. As part of the NERC response to the flooding, BGS has photographed flooded areas from the air.

The low altitude photographs the BGS have taken often at around 600m (2000ft) have captured and recorded flooding in the worst affected areas around Oxford, Gloucester and Tewkesbury. They will use these photographs to compare images with their new Geological Indicators of Flooding Map. The map shows where floods have occurred in the past few thousand years and the pattern they follow will be a useful guide to where future floods are likely to occur.

Marietta Garcia-Bajo from the Geological Indicators of Flooding Team, BGS said:- "This summer, flooding has affected a great many people. Collecting information when river’s flood means that we can improve our understanding of ancient floods, shown on geological maps, and help homeowners and planners to manage floods in the future.

The BGS Geological Flood Indicator data shows many areas that have been flooded in the past. The floods happening today tend to follow the same routes as ancient flows, and these are often shown on geological survey maps."

Dr John Carney, Principal Geologist, BGS said:- "From the air, I was able to see just how extensive and dramatic the flooding has been around Oxford, Tewksbury and Gloucester. Our flood maps show that vital installations such as the Mythe Water Treatment Plant could be placed at risk by such extreme events. This modern flood matched long-gone rivers and channels shown on our geological maps."

Dr Andy Gibson, Leader Shallow Geohazards Research, BGS said:- "Although events like these are very rare, they affect many people, and it is important that we learn from them. Collecting information at the time of the disaster helps us understand how people are affected by geology and how to best manage geohazards in the future."

The Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory (POL) in Liverpool, is home to several research and monitoring programmes concerned with sea level rise and coastal flooding. This is one of the issues that will affect Merseyside heavily in the future. One of its major programmes involves continuous monitoring to provide a global data bank of sea and land level changes around Britain's coastline.

POL scientists are also responsible for the day to day operation of the Storm Tide Forecasting Service, in collaboration with the Environment Agency and the Met Office. They provide the 48 hour warnings that the Environment Agency uses to make decisions on when to raise flood defences, such as the Thames Barrier which protects London from major tidal surges.

POL is collaborating with the Met Office Hadley Centre in a project that forms part of the Environment Agency's Thames Estuary 2100 programme. Using computer models, the project will address the issue of how to protect the Thames from flooding this century, by indicating whether or not extreme water levels will change in the future. It is also running programs like this for other areas like Merseyside as well.

Dr Kevin Horsburgh said:- "The Thames Estuary 2100 programme will provide a decision framework for flood defence strategy in the region over the next 100 years. There are obviously many engineering options, and our long term records of sea and land levels are critical to those decisions"

More information about the POL see www.pol.ac.uk.

So what can we expect for the future? "Merseyside and other parts of the UK will be increasingly threatened by flood risk from extreme conditions ranging from unpredictable meteorological events and other hydrological events and that's not forgetting coastal oceanographic processes. The events of late show we must take action and address the future. We must change our life styles and the way we conduct our selves, to take in to account the changing environment. If not we run the risk of reputedly suffering from the effects of climate change."

ESA Photographs with thanks to ESA. If you would like to see more images highlighting the extreme weather conditions hitting Europe and also a slide show of the UK's probabilistic rainfall then visit this link.

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