British floods 'were the result of climate change'

The catastrophic floods of autumn 2000, which saw river levels reach 400-year highs and left 10,000 homes underwater across England and Wales, were most likely the result of global warming.

It is the first time scientists have been able to plot with any confidence the link between the extreme weather with man-made greenhouse gases. Researchers from Oxford University and the Met Office aided by thousands of volunteers online believe 20th-century industrial emissions made the natural disaster almost twice as likely.

While environmentalists have long pointed to the floods as early evidence of the impact man is having on the environment, concrete proof has been harder to find.

But Dr Pardeep Pall, who began the research while a doctoral student at Oxford University's Department of Physics, said this has now changed. "This study is the first of its kind to model explicitly how such rising greenhouse gas concentrations increase the odds of a particular type of flood event in the UK, and is the first to use publicly volunteered computer time to do so," he said.

In mid-October 2000, parts of Kent and Sussex were under water when the Ouse at Lewes burst its banks, along with the Uck at Uckfield and the Medway at Tonbridge in Kent. A few weeks later it was Yorkshire's turn with the Ouse in York reaching its highest level since 1600 while the Severn at Worcester and Shrewsbury recorded its biggest flood since 1947.

The Thames, Trent, Wharfe and Dee also flowed after much of the country suffered its wettest autumn since records began. The final insurance bill for the damage was £1.3bn with motorways closed, train services cancelled and power supplies disrupted.

The research, published in Nature, reveals there was a two-in-three chance that the odds of flooding that year were increased by global warming by a factor of two or more. While unable to rule out the possibility that the floods could have happened even if the atmosphere had been unpolluted by greenhouse gases in preceding decades, scientists believe the study brings them closer to being able to work out the real-time impact of climate change rather than the long-term predictions which are normally used. Experts could soon be able to tell almost immediately whether an event was caused by the effects of man or not.

Researchers used a Met Office computer climate model to simulate the weather of autumn 2000 both as it was and how it might have been without the presence of man-made CO2. Volunteers around the world then repeated the experiment thousands of times by logging on to the website ClimatePrediction.net. The data was then fed into a flood model by Risk Management Solutions, which develops risk models for the insurance industry.

It was concluded that the chances of floods occurring in autumn 2000 had increased by more than 20 per cent; and perhaps as much as 90 per cent.

Professor Myles Allen, a co-author of the paper, said while scientists had been more easily able to link climate change to the European heatwave of 2003 – an event which resulted in 40,000 deaths, drought, fires and crop failure – establishing the link to floods had been a longer process. He said: "Whether or not a flood occurs in any given year is still an act of God but with the help of thousands of volunteers we are beginning to see how human influence on climate may be starting to load God's dice."

The research will be cited today by Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Chris Huhne in an address at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) calling for closer co-operation between governments to reduce emissions and cope with the effects of a changing atmosphere. He will say: "The evidence for human influence on climate is now even more compelling. Climate change is not a distant threat, it is a clear and present danger – and one that we can do something about."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas