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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Discussion papers
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2019-312
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2019-312
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 09 Jul 2019

Research article | 09 Jul 2019

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (HESS).

The role of flood wave superposition for the severity of large floods

Björn Guse1, Bruno Merz1,2, Luzie Wietzke1, Sophie Ullrich1, Alberto Viglione3,4, and Sergiy Vorogushyn1 Björn Guse et al.
  • 1GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, Hydrology Section, Potsdam, Germany
  • 2University of Potsdam, Institute for Environmental Sciences and Geography, Potsdam, Germany
  • 3Vienna University of Technology, Institute of Hydraulic Engineering and Water Resources Management, Vienna, Austria
  • 4Politecnico di Torino, Department of Environment, Land and Infrastructure Engineering (DIATI), Torino, Italy

Abstract. The severity of floods is shaped not only by event and catchment specific characteristics but also depends on river network configuration. At the confluence of relevant tributaries to the main river, flood event characteristics may change depending on magnitude and temporal matching of flood waves. This superposition of flood waves may potentially increase flood severity. However, this aspect is up to now not analysed for a large data set.

To fill this gap, the role of flood wave superposition in determining flood severity is investigated. A novel methodological approach to analyse flood wave superposition is presented and applied to mean daily discharge data of 37 triple points from the four large river basins in Germany and Austria (Elbe, Danube, Rhine and Weser). A triple point consists of the three gauges at the tributary as well as upstream and downstream of the confluence to the main river. At the triple points, differences and similarities in flood characteristics are jointly analysed in terms of temporal matching and magnitudes of flood peaks.

At many analysed confluences, the tributary peaks arrive consistently earlier than the main river peaks, but mostly high variability in the time lag is detected. No large differences in temporal matching are detected for floods of different magnitudes. In the majority of the cases, the largest floods at the downstream gauge occur not because of a perfect temporal matching of tributary and main river. In terms of spatial variability, the impact of flood wave superposition is site-specific. Characteristic patterns of flood wave superposition are detected for the flood peaks in the Danube, where peak discharge largely increases due to inflow from the alpine tributaries. Overall, we conclude that the superposition of flood waves is not the driving factor of flood peak severity in Germany, but a few confluences bear potential of strong flood magnifications in the case of temporal shift in flood waves.

Björn Guse et al.
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Short summary
Floods are influenced among others by river network processes. Flood characteristics at tributaries may affect flood severity downstream of confluences. The impact of flood wave superposition is investigated with regard to magnitude and temporal matching of flood peaks. Our study in Germany and Austria shows that flood wave superposition is not the major driver of flood severity. However, there is a potential for large floods at some confluences in case of temporal matching of flood peaks.
Floods are influenced among others by river network processes. Flood characteristics at...
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