Indicator Specification

Storm surges

Indicator Specification
  Indicator codes:
Published 19 Nov 2012 Last modified 08 Feb 2021
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Surge height

This indicator has been merged with CLIM 012 (see

Assessment versions

Published (reviewed and quality assured)
  • No published assessments


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.

Scientific references

  • No rationale references available

Indicator definition

  • Surge height


  • metre (m)

Policy context and targets

Context description

In April 2013 the European Commission presented the EU Adaptation Strategy Package ( 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 isBetter informed decision-making, which should occur throughBridging the knowledge gap andFurther developing Climate-ADAPT as the ‘one-stop shop’ for adaptation information in Europe. Further objectives includePromoting action by Member States andClimate-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, 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: Adaptation in EU policy sectors
    Overview of EU sector policies in which mainstreaming of adaptation to climate change is ongoing or explored
  • Climate-ADAPT: Country profiles
    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 in the future. This web portal 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 enhances the preparedness and capacity of all governance levels to respond to the impacts of climate change.


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

Not applicable

Methodology references

No methodology references available.


Data specifications

EEA data references

  • No datasets have been specified here.

External data references

Data sources in latest figures



Methodology uncertainty

Not applicable

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.

Rationale uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Further work

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.

General metadata

Responsibility and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Hans-Martin Füssel


European Environment Agency (EEA)


Indicator code
Version id: 4

Frequency of updates

Required information is not filled in: Information about frequency of update for this indicator is missing.


DPSIR: Impact
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
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