Water-level attenuation in broad-scale assessments of exposure to coastal flooding: a sensitivity analysis

This study explores the uncertainty introduced in global assessments of coastal flood exposure and risk by not accounting for water level attenuation due to land–surface characteristics. We implement a range of plausible water level attenuation values in the flood module of the Dynamic Interactive Vulnerability Assessment (DIVA) modelling framework and assess the sensitivity of flood exposure and flood risk indicators to differences in attenuation rates. Results show a reduction of up to 47 % in area exposure and even larger reductions in population exposure and expected flood damages. Despite the use of a spatially constant rate for water attenuation the reductions vary by country, reflecting the differences in the physical characteristics of the floodplain as well as in the spatial distribution of people and assets in coastal regions. We find that uncertainties related to the omission of this factor in global assessments of flood risk are of similar magnitude to the uncertainties related to the amount of SLR expected over the 21st century. Despite using simplified assumptions, as the process of water level attenuation depends on numerous factors and their complex interactions, our results strongly suggest that future impact modelling needs to focus on an improved representation of the temporal and spatial variation of water levels across floodplains by incorporating the effects of relevant processes.

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