Thames flooding will be less severe than feared

Research by the Met Office suggests that climate change is likely to have less of an impact on water levels in the Thames than previously feared.

The research predicts that melting glaciers and icecaps combined with the water in the oceans expanding as the world heats up will translate into a rise of 20cm to 90cm in the Thames Estuary over the next century.

While this range is most likely, the report also cautions that there is a great deal of uncertainty about just how much of a contribution polar ice melt is likely to have, and in the water in the Thames could quite possibly rise by up to 2 metres.

Previous worst-case scenario of increases in maximum water levels can be revised down from 4.2 metres to 2.7 metres.

Such a reduction in worst-case scenario for this century means that a tide-excluding estuary barrage is unlikely to be necessary to manage flood risk this century.

The research also suggests that a surge in water levels in the Thames estuary from North Sea storms will not be as frequent or extreme as previously feared.

Behind the Thames barrier, the water could flow higher and faster than it does now – in Kingston, just West of London, for example, peak flow could be 40% higher than today by 2080.

Speaking about the results, Dr Jason Lowe, head of mitigation at the Met Office, said: “Having greater clarity on things such as storm-surge frequency is tremendously valuable and not just from a scientific point of view. This research will help to direct investment where it is most needed to manage the impacts of climate change.”

Tim Reeder, Regional climate change programme manager for the Environment Agency Thames Region said: “This research enables the Environment Agency to continue to plan flood management investment with confidence.

“By narrowing previous uncertainty we now have an improved understanding of how climate change will affect the Thames Estuary and can develop realistic and cost-effective options, which will meet future needs.

“These are cutting-edge results and demonstrate the value of the Government engaging with the world-class scientists we have here in the UK.”

The Environment Agency commissioned climate scientists from the Met Office Hadley Centre, the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology to investigate what impact climate change will have on the area over the next 100 years.

Sam Bond

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