Incorporating climate change in flood estimation guidance

Conrad Wasko, Seth Westra, Rory Nathan, Harriet G. Orr, Gabriele Villarini, Roberto Villalobos Herrera, Hayley J. Fowler

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Research into potential implications of climate change on flood hazard has made significant progress over the past decade, yet efforts to translate this research into practical guidance for flood estimation remain in their infancy. In this commentary, we address the question: how best can practical flood guidance be modified to incorporate the additional uncertainty due to climate change? We begin by summarizing the physical causes of changes in flooding and then discuss common methods of design flood estimation in the context of uncertainty. We find that although climate science operates across aleatory, epistemic and deep uncertainty, engineering practitioners generally only address aleatory uncertainty associated with natural variability through standards-based approaches. A review of existing literature and flood guidance reveals that although research efforts in hydrology do not always reflect the methods used in flood estimation, significant progress has been made with many jurisdictions around the world now incorporating climate change in their flood guidance. We conclude that the deep uncertainty that climate change brings signals a need to shift towards more flexible design and planning approaches, and future research effort should focus on providing information that supports the range of flood estimation methods used in practice. This article is part of a discussion meeting issue 'Intensification of short-duration rainfall extremes and implications for flash flood risks'.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20190548
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences
Issue number2195
StatePublished - Apr 19 2021
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Mathematics
  • General Engineering
  • General Physics and Astronomy


  • climate change
  • design
  • engineering
  • flood estimation
  • flooding


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