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Plausible responses to the threat of rapid sea-level rise in the Thames Estuary

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Richard Dawson, Professor Jim Hall



This paper considers the perceptions and responses of selected stakeholders to a very low probability but high consequence climatic 'surprise'-a scenario of rapid collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet, producing a global rise in sea-level of 5 m over 100 years. It uses a case study of the Thames Estuary, UK, including London. Through a process of dialogue involving one-to-one interviews and a 1-day policy exercise, we addressed influences on decision-making when information is uncertain and our ability to plan, prepare for and implement effective ways of coping with this extreme scenario. The interviews and policy exercise explored plausible responses to the scenario and identified weaknesses in flood management approaches to dealing with such an occurrence. The analysis shows that an extreme scenario could be highly challenging, even for an area with well-developed institutions. Participants favoured two options (a) reconfiguring London around the rising water, and (b) building a new downstream barrier which would allow London to continue as today. The lack of consensus suggests the potential for policy paralysis in response to what is a highly uncertain phenomena-this could lead to a forced, unplanned response as the rapid change overwhelmed the existing defence capability. Hence, low probability, high consequence climatic events may challenge our existing institutions. Adaptive management is presented as an approach which could address this challenge. © 2008 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Lonsdale K, Downing T, Nicholls R, Parker D, Vafeidis A, Dawson RJ, Hall JW

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Climatic Change

Year: 2008

Volume: 91

Issue: 1-2

Pages: 145-169

Print publication date: 01/11/2008

ISSN (print): 0165-0009

ISSN (electronic): 1573-1480

Publisher: Springer Netherlands


DOI: 10.1007/s10584-008-9483-0


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