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Communities in London and along the Thames estuary already benefit from world-class tidal defences, but flood risk is increasing.
The Environment Agency developed the Thames Estuary 2100 Plan (TE2100) to recommend how to manage tidal flood risk to the end of the century and beyond. The plan sets out how 1.3 million people and £275 billion worth of property will continue to be protected from tidal flood risk.
TE2100 recommends the actions the Environment Agency and others will need to take in the short, medium and long term. The plan is based on contemporary understanding of predicted climate change, but is designed to be adaptable to changes in predictions (including for sea level rise) throughout the century.
Working with partners and communities
The Environment Agency published TE2100 in November 2012. They are now looking at the most cost-effective way to implement the recommendations in the plan. They can’t implement the recommendations alone, so they are working with partners and communities.
Work has already begun on implementing the first 10 years of investment in tidal flood defences recommended in the plan, under the Thames Estuary Asset Management 2100 programme (TEAM2100).
Findings from the TE2100 study
To inform the TE2100 plan, the Environment Agency carried out a 6-year study into tidal flood risk on the estuary. Here are the key findings from that study.
Existing tidal flood defences
With continued maintenance, the current tidal flood defences will continue to protect London and the estuary for longer than originally planned.
These defences form a system which includes the Thames Barrier and 350 kilometres of flood walls and embankments, smaller barriers, pumping stations and flood gates.
Many of these defences were built more than 30 years ago, when engineers planned for sea level rise of 8 millimetres a year. However, the sea level is currently rising by about 3 millimetres a year.
Predicted rises in sea level
Tidal flood defences need to protect London and the Thames estuary from both a predicted rise in sea level and also potentially higher and more frequent ‘storm surges’ (temporary further rises in sea level caused by certain weather conditions over the North Sea).
Sea level rise in the Thames estuary over this century could be between 20 centimetres and 88 centimetres. However, climate change is less likely than previously thought to increase the height and frequency of storm surges.
The maximum predicted sea level rise is more than 2.7 metres by the end of the century. However, this is the worst case scenario, and highly unlikely.
Options for the future
It’s unlikely that there will be a major adjustment to the existing system of defences until 2070. The Thames Barrier could continue to protect London and the Thames estuary throughout this century. However, it may prove more cost-effective to build a new barrier further downstream by 2070.
Impacts of climate change on the estuary environment
Rising sea levels will lead to the loss of some important wildlife habitats in the estuary. These habitats are vital to a rich variety of wildlife and to commercial fishing in the estuary.
Around 1,200 hectares of lost habitat will need to be replaced by the end of the century. The TE2100 plan recommends replacing lost habitat in areas of former estuary marshland.
For more information and to receive a copy of the Thames Estuary 2100 plan (or any other TE2100 reports), email: firstname.lastname@example.org.