EGU23-16228, updated on 14 Jun 2023
EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

In Memory of Bruno Wilhelm: Impact of warmer climate periods on flood hazard in the European Alps

William Rapuc2, Bruno Wilhelm1, Benjamin Amann3,4, Flavio S. Anselmetti5, Fabien Arnaud2, Juliette Blanchet1, Achim Brauer6, Markus Czymzik7, Charline Giguet-Covex2, Adrian Gilli8, Lukas Glur9, Martin Grosjean10, Ralf Irmler11, Marie Nicolle12, Pierre Sabatier2, Tina Swierczynski6, and Stefanie B. Wirth13,14
William Rapuc et al.
  • 1Univ. Grenoble Alpes, CNRS, IRD, Grenoble INP, Institute for Geosciences and Environmental research (IGE), 38000 Grenoble, France
  • 2Université Savoie Mont Blanc, Laboratoire EDYTEM - UMR 5204 - CNRS, Le Bourget du Lac cedex, France (
  • 3Renard Centre of Marine Geology, Ghent University, 9000 Ghent, Belgium
  • 4UMR 7266 LIttoral, ENvironnement et Sociétés (LIENSs), CNRS-Université de La Rochelle, 2 rue Olympe de Gouges, 17000 La Rochelle, France
  • 5Institute of Geological Sciences and Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, Univ. of Bern, 3012 Bern, Switzerland
  • 6GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, 14473 Potsdam, Germany
  • 7Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research Warnemünde (IOW), 18119 Rostock, Germany
  • 8Geological Institute, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
  • 9Helvetia Swiss Insurance Company Ltd, Dufourstrasse 40, 9001 St. Gallen, Switzerland
  • 10Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research and Institute of Geography, University of Bern, 3012 Bern, Switzerland
  • 11formerly Institut für Geographie, Friedrich-Schiller Universität Jena, Germany
  • 12Normandie Univ, Unirouen, Unicaen, CNRS, M2C, 76000 Rouen, France
  • 13Centre for Hydrogeology and Geothermics, University of Neuchâtel, Neuchâtel, Switzerland
  • 14present address: GEOTEST AG, Bernstrasse 165, 3052 Zollikofen, Switzerland

Flooding is a ubiquitous natural hazard, and climate change is likely to exacerbate the risks worldwide. Mountainous areas, such as the densely populated Alps, are of particular concern because topography and atmospheric conditions can lead to large, flash floods, and because they are experiencing a high rate of warming, which will likely result in more intense precipitation events.

In his latest publication, Bruno Wilhelm and his colleagues have compiled 33 paleoflood records to test the impact that these climate trends might have on the frequency and magnitude of floods in the Alps. The paleoflood records are derived from lake sediments, the only archive that guarantees continuity of records over long periods of time. The dataset passed a selection procedure of hydrological, sedimentary and geochronological controls, resulting in a final selection of 27 records that continuously cover the last 150 to 10,000 years, documenting a total of 7,792 floods. We perform three analyses with this dataset:

(i) analogous to modern projections that assess changes in climate variables between current and warmer future conditions, we determine changes in the occurrence of large (≥10 year) floods between cooler and warmer past subperiods.

(ii) following trend analysis techniques using modern streamflow data, we analyze trends in the occurrence of large (≥10-year) floods during warmer or cooler periods.

(iii) we replicate the first analysis by considering the occurrence of extreme floods (≥100 years) between colder and warmer past subperiods.

From these analyses, we show that a warming of +0.5-1.2°C led to a 25-50% decrease in the frequency of large floods (return period ≥10 years). This downward trend is not observed in records spanning less than 200 years (i.e., the maximum period of the instrumental series), but it is persistent in those ranging from 200 to 9000 years. In contrast, extreme floods (return period > 100 years) may increase with a similar degree of warming in some small Alpine catchments. This may result from a local intensification of extreme precipitation with higher temperature. The latest results of Bruno and his colleagues show how long and continuous paleoflood records can be used to unravel the complex relationships between climate and flooding.

How to cite: Rapuc, W., Wilhelm, B., Amann, B., Anselmetti, F. S., Arnaud, F., Blanchet, J., Brauer, A., Czymzik, M., Giguet-Covex, C., Gilli, A., Glur, L., Grosjean, M., Irmler, R., Nicolle, M., Sabatier, P., Swierczynski, T., and Wirth, S. B.: In Memory of Bruno Wilhelm: Impact of warmer climate periods on flood hazard in the European Alps, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 23–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-16228,, 2023.