Have trends changed over time? A study of UK peak flow data and sensitivity to observation period

Griffin, Adam; Vesuviano, Gianni; Stewart, Elizabeth

Classical statistical methods for flood frequency estimation assume stationarity in the gauged data. However, recent focus on climate change and, within UK hydrology, severe floods in 2009 and 2015 has raised the profile of statistical analyses that include trends.

This paper considers how parameter estimates for the generalised logistic distribution vary through time in the UK. The UK Benchmark Network (UKBN2) is used to allow focus on climate change separate from the effects of land-use change. We focus on the sensitivity of parameter estimates to adding data, through fixed-width moving window and fixed-start extending window approaches, and on whether parameter trends are more prominent in specific geographical regions.

Under stationary assumptions, the addition of new data tends to further the convergence of parameters to some final value. However, addition of a single data point can vastly change non-stationary parameter estimates. Little spatial correlation is seen in the magnitude of trends in peak flow data, potentially due to the spatial clustering of catchments in the UKBN2. In many places, the ratio between the 50-year and 100-year flood is decreasing, whereas the ratio between the 2-year and 30-year flood is increasing, presenting as a flattening of the flood frequency curve.

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Griffin, Adam / Vesuviano, Gianni / Stewart, Elizabeth: Have trends changed over time? A study of UK peak flow data and sensitivity to observation period. 2019. Copernicus Publications.

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