Articles | Volume 5, issue 3
18 Sep 2009
 | 18 Sep 2009

An ensemble study of extreme storm surge related water levels in the North Sea in a changing climate

A. Sterl, H. van den Brink, H. de Vries, R. Haarsma, and E. van Meijgaard

Abstract. The height of storm surges is extremely important for a low-lying country like The Netherlands. By law, part of the coastal defence system has to withstand a water level that on average occurs only once every 10 000 years. The question then arises whether and how climate change affects the heights of extreme storm surges. Published research points to only small changes. However, due to the limited amount of data available results are usually limited to relatively frequent extremes like the annual 99%-ile. We here report on results from a 17-member ensemble of North Sea water levels spaning the period 1950–2100. It was created by forcing a surge model of the North Sea with meteorological output from a state-of-the-art global climate model which has been driven by greenhouse gas emissions following the SRES A1b scenario. The large ensemble size enables us to calculate 10 000 year return water levels with a low statistical uncertainty. In the one model used in this study, we find no statistically significant change in the 10 000 year return values of surge heights along the Dutch during the 21st century. Also a higher sea level resulting from global warming does not impact the height of the storm surges. As a side effect of our simulations we also obtain results on the interplay between surge and tide.