SurgeWatch: A new 100-year record of coastal flooding for the UK


The winter of 2013/14 saw some of the UK’s most extreme sea levels, waves and coastal flooding for several decades. Prompted by people asking ‘just how unusual was the 2013/14 season?’ a team of scientists at the University of Southampton, National Oceanography Centre and the British Oceanographic Data Centre, have compiled a new database of coastal flooding for the UK that covers the last one hundred years. The database contains information of 96 large storms during this period, the highest sea levels they produced, and a description of the coastal flooding that occurred during each event.

The database is described in detail in an article published recently in the journal Scientific Data. To facilitate free and easy access to the database, the team have built an accompanying website called SurgeWatch’.

The database and website have been designed so that all the information is easily accessible and understandable to a range of users. Their vision is to progressively expand and update this database. They welcome user contributions (for example photographs and videos), which can easily be uploaded to their website.

This new database will improve understanding of the statistics of extreme sea levels around the UK. Coastal flooding remains a threat to life and to economic and environmental assets. In the UK, currently 2.5 million properties and £150 billion of assets are exposed to coastal flooding.

Was the 2013-14 season unusual? The database definitely suggests so. Seven out of the 96 events in the 100-year database occurred during the 2013/14 storm surge season; no other season has had that number of large events in the last 100 years. Two of the events (5-6 December 2013 and 3rd January 2014) are ranked in the top ten, in terms of height of sea levels. Both of these events also rank highly in terms of spatial footprints, i.e. they impacted very large stretches of the UK coast.

Robert Nicholls, Professor of Coastal Engineering at the University of Southampton, adds

"The fact that the damage was so limited during the December 2013 and January 2014 storms, compared to the tragedy of January 1953, during which 307 people were killed along the UK's North Sea coast, is thanks to significant government investment in coastal defences, flood forecasting and sea level monitoring. It is therefore vital we continue to invest in defences, forecasting and monitoring and continue to update this new database."

If you would like more information on SurgeWatch, contact Dr. Ivan Haigh from Southampton University