The largest floods in the High Rhine basin since 1268 assessed from documentary and instrumental evidence

Wetter, Oliver; Pfister, Christian; Weingartner, Rolf; Luterbacher, Jürg; Reist, Thomas; Trösch, Jürg (2011). The largest floods in the High Rhine basin since 1268 assessed from documentary and instrumental evidence. Hydrological sciences journal / Journal des sciences hydrologiques, 56(5), pp. 733-758. Blackwell 10.1080/02626667.2011.583613

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The magnitudes of the largest known floods of the River Rhine in Basel since 1268 were assessed using a hydraulic model drawing on a set of pre-instrumental evidence and daily hydrological measurements from 1808. The pre-instrumental evidence, consisting of flood marks and documentary data describing extreme events with the customary reference to specific landmarks, was “calibrated” by comparing it with the instrumental series for the
overlapping period between the two categories of evidence (1808–1900). Summer (JJA) floods were particularly frequent in the century between 1651–1750, when precipitation was also high. Severe winter (DJF) floods have not occurred since the late 19th century despite a significant increase in winter precipitation. Six catastrophic events involving a runoff greater than 6000 m 3 s-1 are documented prior to 1700. They were initiated by spells of torrential rainfall of up to 72 h (1480 event) and preceded by long periods of substantial precipitation that saturated the soils, and/or by abundant snowmelt. All except two (1999 and 2007) of the 43 identified severe events (SEs: defined as having runoff > 5000 and < 6000 m 3 s -1) occurred prior to 1877. Not a single SE is documented from 1877 to 1998. The intermediate 121-year-long “flood disaster gap” is unique over the period since 1268. The effect of river regulations (1714 for the River Kander; 1877 for the River Aare) and the building of reservoirs in the 20th century upon peak runoff were investigated using a one-dimensional hydraulic flood-routing model. Results show that anthropogenic effects only partially account for the “flood disaster gap” suggesting that variations in climate should also be taken into account in explaining these features.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography
10 Strategic Research Centers > Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research (OCCR)
06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of History and Archaeology > Institute of History > Economic, Social and Environmental History

UniBE Contributor:

Wetter, Oliver, Pfister, Christian, Weingartner, Rolf, Luterbacher, Jürg, Reist, Thomas


900 History > 910 Geography & travel
500 Science > 550 Earth sciences & geology
500 Science > 570 Life sciences; biology
300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology
900 History








Oliver Wetter

Date Deposited:

11 Mar 2015 11:39

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 14:42

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