Published (reviewed and quality assured)
Justification for indicator selection
A storm surge is a temporary deviation in sea water level from that of the astronomical tide caused by changes in air pressure and winds. Most concern is centred on positive surge events where the surge adds to the tidal level and increases the risk of coastal flooding by extreme water levels. Changes in the climatology of extreme water levels may result from changes in time mean local sea level (i.e. the local sea level relative to land averaged over a year), changes in storm surge characteristics, or changes in tides. Here the focus will be on changes in the storm surge characteristics, which are closely linked to changes in the characteristics of atmospheric storms, including the frequency, track and intensity of the storms. The height of surges is also strongly affected by regional and local-scale geographical features, such as the shape of the coastline. Typically, the highest water levels are found on the rising limb of the tide. The biggest surge events typically occur during the winter months in Europe.
The most obvious impact of extreme sea levels is flooding. The most well known coastal flooding event in Europe in living memory occurred in 1953 due to a combination of a severe storm surge and a high spring tide. The event caused in excess of 2 000 deaths in Belgium, the Netherlands and the UK, and damaged or destroyed more than 40 000 buildings. Currently around 200 million people live in the coastal zone in Europe, and insurable losses due to coastal flooding are likely to rise during the 21st century, at least for the North Sea region. In addition to the direct impact of flooding, increases in the frequency of storm surges can also exacerbate other coastal problems, such as erosion, salt water intrusion, migration or river flooding.
- IPCC, 2013. Climate Change: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Stocker, T. F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S. K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P. M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, in press.
- Surge height
- metre (m)
Policy context and targets
In April 2013 the European Commission presented the EU Adaptation Strategy Package (http://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/adaptation/what/documentation_en.htm). This package consists of the EU Strategy on adaptation to climate change /* COM/2013/0216 final */ and a number of supporting documents. One of the objectives of the EU Adaptation Strategy is Better informed decision-making, which should occur through Bridging the knowledge gap and Further developing Climate-ADAPT as the ‘one-stop shop’ for adaptation information in Europe. Further objectives include Promoting action by Member States and Climate-proofing EU action: promoting adaptation in key vulnerable sectors. Many EU Member States have already taken action, such as by adopting national adaptation strategies, and several have also prepared action plans on climate change adaptation.
The European Commission and the European Environment Agency have developed the European Climate Adaptation Platform (Climate-ADAPT, http://climate-adapt.eea.europa.eu/) to share knowledge on observed and projected climate change and its impacts on environmental and social systems and on human health; on relevant research; on EU, national and subnational adaptation strategies and plans; and on adaptation case studies.
No targets have been specified.
Related policy documents
Climate-ADAPT: Mainstreaming adaptation in EU sector policies
Overview of EU sector policies in which mainstreaming of adaptation to climate change is ongoing or explored
Climate-ADAPT: National adaptation strategies
Overview of activities of EEA member countries in preparing, developing and implementing adaptation strategies
DG CLIMA: Adaptation to climate change
Adaptation means anticipating the adverse effects of climate change and taking appropriate action to prevent or minimise the damage they can cause, or taking advantage of opportunities that may arise. It has been shown that well planned, early adaptation action saves money and lives later. This webportal provides information on all adaptation activities of the European Commission.
EU Adaptation Strategy Package
In April 2013 the European Commission adopted an EU strategy on adaptation to climate change which has been welcomed by the EU Member States. The strategy aims to make Europe more climate-resilient. By taking a coherent approach and providing for improved coordination, it will enhance the preparedness and capacity of all governance levels to respond to the impacts of climate change.
Key policy question
What is the trend in storm surges and extreme sea levels across European seas?
Methodology for indicator calculation
Trends in extreme sea level and storm surges are available at many coastal locations from hourly tide gauge records.
Methodology for gap filling
- Changes in extreme high water levels based on a quasi-global tide-gauge data set. Menéndez, M. and Woodworth, P. L. (2010) Changes in extreme high water levels based on a quasi-global tide-gauge data set. Journal of Geophysical Research 115(C10). doi:10.1029/2009JC005997.
EEA data references
- No datasets have been specified here.
External data references
Data sources in latest figures
Data sets uncertainty
Producing a clear picture of either past changes or future projections of storm surges for the entire European coast line is a challenging task because of the impact of local topographical features on the surge events. Whilst there are numerous studies for the North Sea coastline, fewer are available for the Mediterranean and Baltic Seas, although this situation is starting to improve. The uncertainty in future projections of storm surges remains high and is ultimately linked to the uncertainty in future mid-latitude storminess changes. This is an area where current scientific understanding is advancing quickly.
No uncertainty has been specified
Short term work
Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.
Long term work
Work specified here will require more than 1 year (from now) to be completed.
Responsibility and ownership
EEA Contact InfoHans-Martin Füssel
Frequency of updates
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A – What is happening to the environment and to humans?)