The traditional approach to design flood estimation (for example, to derive the 100-year flood) is to apply a statistical model to time series of peak river flow measured by gauging stations. Such records are typically not very long, for example in the UK only about 10% of the stations have records that are more than 50 years in length. A long-explored way to augment the data available from a gauging station is to derive information about historical flood events and paleo-floods, which can be obtained from careful exploration of archives, old newspapers, flood marks or other signs of past flooding that are still discernible in the catchment, and the history of settlements. The inclusion of historical data in flood frequency estimation has been shown to substantially reduce the uncertainty around the estimated design events and is likely to provide insight into the rarest events which might have pre-dated the relatively short systematic records. Among other things, the FEH Local project funded by the Environment Agency aims to develop methods to easily incorporate historical information into the standard method of statistical flood frequency estimation in the UK. Different statistical estimation procedures are explored, namely maximum likelihood and partial probability weighted moments, and the strengths and weaknesses of each method are investigated. The project assesses the usefulness of historical data and aims to provide practitioners with useful guidelines to indicate in what circumstances the inclusion of historical data is likely to be beneficial in terms of reducing both the bias and the variability of the estimated flood frequency curves. The guidelines are based on the results of a large Monte Carlo simulation study, in which different estimation procedures and different data availability scenarios are studied. The study provides some indication of the situations under which different estimation procedures might give a better performance.
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