IHCantabria warns of underestimated risks of coastal flooding in Europe and the importance of critical infrastructures

by | 21 Nov, 2023 | Climate Risks, Adaptation and Resilience, General News, Scientific article | 0 comments

European coastal areas are home to a significant number of critical infrastructures potentially exposed to coastal flooding events that can cause serious disruptions in their operation, resulting in severe impacts from an economic and social perspective.

The results of a study, which i
s part of the efforts of the Marine Science Program’s Adapta-City project, contribute to the growing awareness of the importance of addressing challenges related to climate change and critical infrastructure.

Research staff from the Institute of Environmental Hydraulics of the University of Cantabria(IHCantabria) have participated in a study that highlights the underestimated threat of coastal flooding in Europe and the critical relevance of critical infrastructures as providers of essential services to the population. Esther Barrios Crespo, Saúl Torres Ortega and Pedro Díaz Simal referred to this topic in an article recently published in the Journal of Marine Science and Engineering.

Climate change poses increased levels of risk associated with coastal flooding, especially in areas with a high concentration of population and economic activity. The study focuses on analyzing the risk and its future evolution in the Urban Functional Areas (FUA) of the European coasts, considering the potential impact on the population if critical infrastructures (energy, water treatment and waste) were to fail due to coastal flooding. The results reveal that the currently underestimated risk could be as much as 4.5 times higher in some areas, highlighting the need to reconsider risk management strategies.

The main objective is to develop and apply a methodology that quantifies the real risk on the coasts to analyze the role of critical infrastructures as providers of essential services. The current underestimation of risk could lead to erroneous decision making, highlighting the importance and need for a more accurate assessment.

The methodology used is based on the use of Functional Urban Areas (FUA) to assign the population potentially exposed to each critical infrastructure. The analysis of coastal flood risk has focused on differentiating the direct risk to the population from the risk induced by the impact on critical infrastructures.

The study covered critical coastal infrastructure across Europe, revealing that the future risk to the population due to climate change is significantly underestimated and may be up to 4.5 times higher than estimated. In addition, the most vulnerable European FUA are identified.

Contribution to knowledge and future applications

This research provides the first estimate of the risk faced by the European population due to the impact on critical infrastructures, filling a previous knowledge gap. The developed methodology improves current risk analyses, providing valuable information for decision making and resilient infrastructure planning.

The study, led by lead author Esther Barrios Crespo, is part of her doctoral thesis. The results lay the foundation for future developments in the understanding and management of coastal flood risks in Europe.

Full article available: “Are we underestimating the risk of coastal flooding in Europe? The Relevance of critical infrastructure”.