Statistically, there is little likelihood of anybody experiencing a major river flood whose average recurrence interval is one hundred or one thousand years. Predicting and designing of such events involves going back in time, three or four centuries, by scrutinising records of severe flooding. Joint researches by Cemagref hydrologist Michel Lang and historian Denis Coeur have reconstructed the history of three French rivers, the Guiers, Isere and Ardeche, a unique picture which has been incorporated in the European SPHERE project involving French, German, Canadian, Spanish and Israeli teams.
esearch on three rivers
The search began with the Guiers, the historical boundary between France and Savoy. Using a qualitative recension of river floods, a list of the ten largest events recorded over the last 300 years was drawn up. Attention then turned to the Isere, to test the method on a river which had been extensively developed and controlled, and to see if the past could yield insights into the future. Four centuries of data was used. Contemporary eyewitness accounts are not ignored, and can be consulted on the Internet at http://www.lyon.cemagref.fr/hh/base-in/base_in_anglais/isere1859/presentation.htm where there is an illustrated account of the worst river flood, in 1859. The geography of the flood plain made it impossible to calculate river flow from water levels, because the flood plain is too wide and its contours insufficiently documented before the 19th century. Abundant information is available for the Ardeche river. Two sites were given special attention near the gorges, at Vallon Pont d’Arc and Saint Martin d’Ardeche. River flow has been recalculated from 1644 to the present. The largest river flood has been reconstituted with a 50% margin of error, which is comparable to today’s level of accuracy on high streamflows.
Michel Lang | EurekAlert!
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