Ireland’s flood history: unearthing our potential archives.

A workshop on flood archives

Friday April 8th (10.30-4.30), Museum Building, Trinity College Dublin.

No registration required.

Workshop Schedule is at bottom of this post.


Meeting Rationale:

Knowledge of the paleoflood history of Ireland beyond the historical period is sparse, yet there is a rich archive of literary, biological and sedimentary data that can be used to reconstruct flood events. This workshop will explore the potential archives available in Ireland. A series of informal presentations in a workshop-style format will form the basis for discussion. The meeting will formalise a plan to conduct a series of future investigations into unearthing Ireland’s history of extreme flood events.


Flooding is known to play a vital and beneficial role in hydrological cycles, floods are also one of the most significant and widespread natural hazards, accounting for some of the greatest losses of life annually and the greatest economic losses. A poor understanding of floods and the forces that drive them has led people and businesses to continue to build in flood-prone areas and cause unnecessary hazards that have led to casualties, infrastructure damage, famine, and epidemics.

There is significant investment on flood defense and flood risk management particularly as urban and industrial developments continue to encroach on flood-prone terrain in riverine or coastal locations. Alongside this, there is considerable concern for the impact that climate change could have on hydrological extremes such as floods and droughts, yet these impacts are one of the major areas of uncertainty in the latest IPCC report.

Knowing the conditions that have led to past flood events, as well as how and when they occurred, is key to mitigating future impacts of floods. Traditional approaches to flood hazard estimation have involved the use of instrumented flood records to estimate flood frequency and magnitude relationships. In some regions, the historical record of flood occurrence is short. For example in Ireland the average hydrological record extends over 38 years. This is not sufficiently long to capture the more extreme events that have occurred under our current climate regime.

The value of assembling long flood histories has become more widely appreciated across the sciences, in river catchment management and related policy decisions. Palaeoflood science links several disciplines and involves a wide range of field-based, theoretical, and modelling approaches. Long-term flood records are now providing essential context for the short gauged records that are commonly used for flood hazard assessment and management.

Paleoflood hydrology is the study of past or ancient flow events using physical or botanical information. A key contribution of palaeoflood hydrology has been a clear demonstration of the need to use the palaeoflood record to provide the longer-term context for these typically very short records. Computationally-driven hydraulic modelling approaches are now being integrated much more effectively with geomorphological, sedimentological and archival data on the magnitude and frequency of past floods. Studies of past flooding are helping to contextualise present flood events and provide a more robust framework for anticipating and mitigating future events.

 Dr Mary Bourke

Trinity College, Dublin.

Workshop Schedule:





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