Climate change implies changes in the frequency and magnitude of flood events. The influence of climate variability on flooding was evaluated by an analysis of sedimentary (palaeofloods) and documentary archives. A 500-year palaeoflood record at Montlleó River (657 km2
in catchment area), eastern Spain, revealed up to 31 palaeofloods with a range of discharges of 20–950 m3
, and with at least five floods exceeding 740–950 m3
. This information contrasts with the available gauged flood registers (since year 1971) with an annual maximum daily discharge of 129 m3
. Our palaeoflood dataset indicates flood cluster episodes at (1) 1570–1620, (2) 1775–1795, (3) 1850–1890, and (4) 1920–1969. Flood rich periods 1 and 3 corresponded to cooler than usual (about 0.3 °C and 0.2 °C) climate oscillations, whereas 2 and 4 were characterised by higher inter-annual climatic variability (floods and droughts). This high inter-annual rainfall variability increased over the last 150 years, leading to a reduction of annual maximum flow. Flood quantiles (>50 years) calculated from palaeoflood+gauged data showed 30%–40% higher peak discharges than those using only instrumental records, whereas when increasing the catchment area (1500 km2
) the discharge estimation variance decreased to ~15%. The results reflect the higher sensitivity of small catchments to changes on flood magnitude and frequency due to climate variability whereas a larger catchment buffers the response due to the limited extent of convective storms. Our findings show that extended flood records provide robust knowledge about hazardous flooding that can assist in the prioritization of low-regret actions for flood-risk adaptation to climate change.
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