Event-based classification for global study of river flood generating processes

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Better understanding of which processes generate floods in a catchment can improve flood frequency analysis and potentially climate change impacts assessment. However, current flood classification methods are either not transferable across locations or do not provide event‐based information. We therefore developed a location‐independent, event‐based flood classification methodology that is applicable in different climates and returns a classification of all flood events, including extreme ones. We use precipitation time series and very simply modelled soil moisture and snowmelt as inputs for a decision tree. A total of 113,635 events in 4155 catchments worldwide were classified into one of five hydro‐climatological flood generating processes: short rain, long rain, excess rainfall, snowmelt and a combination of rain and snow. The new classification was tested for its robustness and evaluated with available information; these two tests are often lacking in current flood classification approaches. According to the evaluation, the classification is mostly successful and indicates excess rainfall as the most common dominant process. However, the dominant process is not very informative in most catchments, as there is a high at‐site variability in flood generating processes. This is particularly relevant for the estimation of extreme floods which diverge from their usual flood generation pattern, especially in the United Kingdom, Northern France, Southeastern United States, and India.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
JournalHydrological Processes
Publication statusPublished - 13 Dec 2019


  • classification
  • flood
  • flood frequency
  • flood generating process
  • flood type
  • global
  • large sample
  • mechanism


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