Estimating sea-level extremes under conditions of uncertain sea-level rise
Estimation of expected extremes, using combinations of observations and model simulations, is common practice. Many techniques assume that the background statistics are stationary and that the resulting estimates may be used satisfactorily for any time in the future. We are now however in a period of climate change, during which both average values and statistical distributions may change in time. The situation is further complicated by the considerable uncertainty which accompanies the projections of such future change. Any useful technique for the assessment of future risk should combine our knowledge of the present, our best estimate of how the world will change, and the uncertainty in both. A method of combining observations of present sea-level extremes with the (uncertain) projections of sea-level rise during the 21st century is described, using Australian data as an example. The technique makes the assumption that the change of flooding extremes during the 21st century will be dominated by the rise in mean sea level and that the effect of changes in the variability about the mean will be relatively small. The results give engineers, planners and policymakers a way of estimating the probability that a given sea level will be exceeded during any prescribed period during the present century.
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