Essex: Warning that climate change could bring repeat of 1953 floods

Essex-coast

- Credit: Archant

A PROFESSOR has warned that flooding similar to that of the 1953 disaster could happen again if climate change remains unchecked.

University of Essex vice-chairman Jules Pretty said predicted sea level rises caused by increases to global temperatures mean current coastal defences will have to be “substantially improved” over the coming years.

Mr Pretty, who is also professor of environment and society at the university, said: “After 1953 there was an intense period of filling in of sea defences and then a sustained policy of making money available to protect different types of coastline.

“But, in the last few years, attention has turned to flooding inland because all this rain has caused rivers to burst. Inevitably, this has taken attention away from the threat posed by the sea.”

However, Mr Pretty said the worst-case scenarios from climate change predictions are “alarming”. He said that if there is a two-degree rise in global temperatures by 2050, then sea levels could rise by 1.5m.


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If the temperature rises by four degrees by the end of the century, sea levels are predicted to rise by 3m.

Mr Pretty added: “These scenarios would put our coastline under a new threat and would mean defences would have to be substantially improved.

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“The last time we had a big wave was in 2007 – it came within eight to ten inches of the sea wall at Canvey. It was bigger than the 1953 wave.

“We are likely to see more extreme weather events as time goes on. This is a problem for the whole of the country and not just the Anglian coast line. I don’t want to be alarmist but at the moment we have not got on top of reducing carbon emissions, which are causing climate change.”

But David Kemp, flood resilience team leader at the Environment Agency, said factoring in the predicted sea level rises caused by climate change has been “part of the agency’s thinking for years”.

He said: “There have been a lot of changes in the 60 years since 1953 and today we have some of the biggest computing power working on sea levels.

“We are predicting figures for the height of tides 36 hours out and have indications of what could happen five days out.

“We work on all time-scales. For me, tomorrow night is a long way off but we have shoreline management plans where a team is making recommendations on coastal defence building 70 to 100 years hence.”

Mr Kemp also refuted any claims that attention had been drawn away from the coast by recent flooding inland.

He added: “Hundreds of millions has been spent on coastal defences in East Anglia.

“We have not lost sight of the need to bolster sea defences. We also work with councils and coastguards on how we would respond to issues. For instance, Exercise Watermark in 2011 involved 10,000 people.”

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