Record sea levels flood east coast of England

Flooding in Scarborough, England, Dec 5-6, 2013. Lifeboat is stationed for protection from ocean. Photo Creative Commons.

The eastern coast of England along the English Channel was seriously damaged by record-high ocean levels on December 5 and 6.

According to The Guardian, about 15,000 people were evacuated from their homes and 1,400 properties were damaged. Flood defenses protected an estimated 80,000 other properties and are credited with saving lives. The defenses included the closing of the Thames River Barrier.

The Daily Mail reports that the flooding was the worst since an ocean surge in 1953 claimed 307 lives and destroyed 4,500 homes.

The flooding was caused by a combination of a tidal surge, high winds and a high tide. Britain’s Environment Agency said the surge was the most severe that many modern coastal defences have seen, including the 30-year-old Thames Barrier. In many areas, sea levels were the highest seen in generations.

In Hull, they rose to 5.8m above normal – the highest since records began. In Dover, they rose to 4.7m above normal, the highest recorded since 1905.

The Guardian has published here a photo gallery of the flooding.

Three months ago, the UK government reached a deal with insurance companies to provide special coverage for an estimated 500,000 east coast homes unable to get flood insurance because they are deemed at such high risk. The deal is financed by a special levy on all insured homes in the country. But The Independent reports, “But an impact assessment published by the Government last week admits that its numbers don’t cater for any rise in flooding as a result of climate change – despite a separate piece of Government research estimating that 800,000 residential properties could be exposed to a significant risk of coastal or river flooding by the 2020s.”

Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the London School of Economics’ Grantham Research Institute, is cited by The Independent: “To say that the effects of investment in flood defences  balances out the effects of climate change is a joke – especially given that the Climate Change Committee [the government’s independent advisory body] has already pointed out that current investment is not in line with what is needed to take account of climate change.”

Much of the east coast of England lies at sea level, or just above. Only 8,000 or so years ago, England was connected by land to continental Europe. Modern ocean levels stabilized shortly after that.

A new book published earlier this year, The Attacking Ocean, tells the fascinating story of the rise and fall of ocean levels since modern humans evolved more than 100,000 years ago. The book warns of serious consequences for hundreds of millions of people living along coastlines as rising greenhouse gas emissions cause climate warming and rises in sea levels. The exact limit of those rises is impossible to predict, not least because of the threat of runaway climate warming.

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