Rethinking flood hazard at the global scale

Guy J P Schumann*, Dimitrios Stampoulis, Andrew M. Smith, Christopher C. Sampson, Konstantinos M. Andreadis, Jeffrey C. Neal, Paul D. Bates

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)
305 Downloads (Pure)


Flooding is governed by the amount and timing of water spilling out of channels and moving across adjacent land, often with little warning. At global scales, flood hazard is typically inferred from streamflow, precipitation or from satellite images, yielding a largely incomplete picture. Thus, at present, the floodplain inundation variables, which define hazard, cannot be accurately predicted nor can they be measured at large scales. Here we present, for the first time, a complete continuous long-term simulation of floodplain water depths at continental scale. Simulations of floodplain inundation were performed with a hydrodynamic model based on gauged streamflow for the Australian continent from 1973 to 2012. We found the magnitude and timing of floodplain storage to differ significantly from streamflow in terms of their distribution. Furthermore, floodplain volume gave a much sharper discrimination of high hazard and low hazard periods than discharge. These discrepancies have implications for characterizing flood hazard at the global scale from precipitation and streamflow records alone, suggesting that simulations and observations of inundation are also needed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10249-10256
Number of pages8
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number19
Early online date9 Oct 2016
Publication statusPublished - 27 Oct 2016


  • Continental scale
  • Event simulations
  • Flood hazard
  • Flood risk
  • Inundation
  • Remote sensing

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