Australians love living near the beach… but floods are devastating
As Australians, we are blessed with bright sunshine, golden beach and blue oceans. Most of us enjoy living near the beach and a lot of us do. Many people see living near the beach as a privilege. But it has its downside: We are more vulnerable to coastal floods.
Coastal floods are extremely dangerous. In June 2016, a high astronomical tide (a ‘King Tide’) caused widespread destruction in NSW. In combination with an extreme storm surge caused by east coast lows, the tide caused $38 million damage.,
Flood composition is complex
The composition of floods in coastal regions is complex. It involves the intersection of the hydrosphere across oceanic, atmospheric and terrestrial domains. As a result, extreme water levels depend on the interaction of many factors, such as:
- the bathymetry of the basin
- regional climate patterns
- astronomical tides
- run-up, and
- the inverse barometric effect.
7 Processes that cause coastal floods
The figure below shows many factors that can cause flooding in coastal, urban areas. They include:
- marine processes, such as high astronomical tide, storm surge and large waves
- intense rainfall falling on urban catchments
- large river discharge from upper catchments.
1. High astronomical tide
High astronomical tide is caused by normal variations in the astronomical tide cycle. The cycle is influenced by the alignment of the Sun and Moon with the Earth. High astronomical tide increases the risk of floods during a storm.
2. Storm surge
Storm surge is a rise above normal coastal water levels. It’s caused by a combination of wind action and low pressure acting on the ocean’s surface.
Storm surge is often caused by severe weather conditions. These may include:
- tropical cyclones (such as hurricanes)
- mid-latitude extratropical storms (such east coast lows in Australia)
- fast-moving frontal systems that bring both strong winds and heavy rainfall.
3. Large waves
Local winds or swells from storms far away cause large waves. A ‘large wave’ rises above normal coastal water levels. They often occur under the severe weather conditions mentioned above.
4. Intense rainfall
Intense rainfall is a large amount of rainfall falling within a short time. Because of the short time in which rain falls on every part of the catchment, it can cause flash flooding. This is especially the case in urban areas.
Intense rainfall is often caused the same severe weather conditions mentioned above.
5. Large river discharge
Severe rainfall in upper catchment(s) cause river flooding. It can inundate estuarine areas, especially if it coincides with any of the coastal flood drivers above.
6. A combination of the factors above
Flood risk in coastal and estuarine regions is traditionally assessed by individually considering points 1-5. But, a relationship may exist between many of the flood drivers (e.g. storm surge, large waves and intense rainfall). Combined, they significantly increase the risk of flood in coastal and estuarine regions.
Previous research tells us that, in Australia, extreme storm surge and intense rainfall are dependent. This dependence can lead to up to 35-fold increase in flood risk in these regions.
7. Human intervention
Humans are a factor that people may not always consider when it comes to coastal flooding. But they are, especially when there are engineering structures within or upstream of the catchment. Such structures might include reservoirs and dams.
The design, construction, operation and maintenance of these structures may have an impact on the intensity and timing of floods within the catchment. In turn, this will have an impact on flooding downstream, in the estuarine regions. Developments within, and upstream of, the catchment may reduce the time needed for flood water to reach affected areas. This may also increase flood risk.
For more information
For more information about coastal flooding and Wenyan’s work, please get in touch.
1. 3. Marks, L. (2016). “NSW weather: Another king tide, large swell hits coast, insurance bill at $38m.” <http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-06-06/another-king-tide-large-swell-hits-nsw-coastline/7483018>. (16 Dec., 2016).
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