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Flood risk (d)evolution: Disentangling key drivers of flood risk change with a retro-model experiment

Zischg, Andreas Paul, Hofer, Patrick, Mosimann, Markus, Röthlisberger, Veronika, Ramirez, Jorge A., Keiler, Margreth, Weingartner, Rolf
The Science of the total environment 2018 v.639 pp. 195-207
governance, humans, models, risk, risk management, river engineering, rivers, socioeconomic development
Flood risks are dynamically changing over time. Over decades and centuries, the main drivers for flood risk change are influenced either by perturbations or slow alterations in the natural environment or, more importantly, by socio-economic development and human interventions. However, changes in the natural and human environment are intertwined. Thus, the analysis of the main drivers for flood risk changes requires a disentangling of the individual risk components. Here, we present a method for isolating the individual effects of selected drivers of change and selected flood risk management options based on a model experiment. In contrast to purely synthetic model experiments, we built our analyses upon a retro-model consisting of several spatio-temporal stages of river morphology and settlement structure. The main advantage of this approach is that the overall long-term dynamics are known and do not have to be assumed. We used this model setup to analyse the temporal evolution of the flood risk, for an ex-post evaluation of the key drivers of change, and for analysing possible alternative pathways for flood risk evolution under different governance settings. We showed that in the study region the construction of lateral levees and the consecutive river incision are the main drivers for decreasing flood risks over the last century. A rebound effect in flood risk can be observed following an increase in settlements since the 1960s. This effect is not as relevant as the river engineering measures, but it will become increasingly relevant in the future with continued socio-economic growth. The presented approach could provide a methodological framework for studying pathways for future flood risk evolvement and for the formulation of narratives for adapting governmental flood risk strategies to the spatio-temporal dynamics in the built environment.