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Water Science and Applications



  • Paleohydrology
  • Floods

Index Terms

  • 1821 Hydrology: Floods
  • 1833 Hydrology: Hydroclimatology
  • 3309 Meteorology and Atmospheric Dynamics: Climatology
  • 3344 Meteorology and Atmospheric Dynamics: Paleoclimatology



Climate variability and flood frequency at decadal to millennial time scales

K. T. Redmond, Y. Enzel, P. K. House, and F. Biondi

The climate research community has generally accepted the notion of the climate system as an entity that routinely produces nonstationary time series. Because there is an intimate tie between climate and weather, and between weather and floods, it should not be surprising to encounter nonstationary flood series with some regularity. There is an increasingly large body of paleohydrology and paleoclimate data that offers significant promise in better understanding of the climate system and how it varies over time scales formerly inaccessible to close analysis by those who have concentrated on systematic records. The same information can provide insights into ways to place contemporary systematic total and peak streamflow measurements into longer time contexts spanning centuries or more. Most observations and the majority of studies to date have concentrated on arid and semi-arid regions, where confounding influences are minimized and interpretations pertaining to the use of paleoflood data are cleaner. Building from prior studies, this work furnishes further examples utilizing additional paleohydrology data from the southwest United States. El Niño/La Niña connections to climate in this region and elsewhere have received intense scrutiny. For that reason ENSO is used as one example mechanism (although there are certainly others) to illustrate how climate variability can lead to flood variability on a variety of time scales of interest to flood frequency analysts. Flood frequency analysis is essentially an exercise in forecasting, and the quality of the forecast of the future distribution is influenced considerably by the degree to which all scales, local to global, of the flood-producing system are understood. There are, however, logistical barriers and limitations in using paleohydrology data, and care is required in selecting appropriate records for the application at hand.

Citation: Redmond, K. T., Y. Enzel, P. K. House, and F. Biondi (2002), Climate variability and flood frequency at decadal to millennial time scales, in Ancient Floods, Modern Hazards: Principles and Applications of Paleoflood Hydrology, Water Sci. Appl., vol. 5, edited by P. K. House et al., pp. 21–45, AGU, Washington, D. C., doi:10.1029/WS005p0021.

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