River Thames shows “clear influences of climate change”

A new study of the River Thames has highlighted “clear influences of climate change” with both water temperatures and sea levels continuing to rise above historic baselines.

Thames flood barrier

“The State of the Thames Report”, published this week by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL),  found sea levels have been increasing on average at all gauging sites in the Tidal Thames since monitoring began 110 years ago.

The study found Tilbury had the highest average rate of increase from 1911 to 2018 at 2.68 mm each year, although this has been surpassed for the 1990 to 2018 period by the Silvertown gauging site which saw an average rate of change of 4.26mm each year.

The implications of sea level rise in the Thames are heightened by a decline in coastal habitats such as saltmarsh, mudflats and seagrass and, in turn, the plant and wildlife populations that rely on them.

Work is ongoing to deliver the Thames Estuary 2100 plan, which will set out a series of recommendations to better manage sea level rise and protect London from tidal flooding through the next century.

As England’s first adaptive flood risk plan, it aims to monitor and respond to potential flood risks caused by climate change.

Change in mean sea level in the Tidal Thames

This includes analysing how the estuary is changing, adapting existing flood defence structures as required, improving people’s access to the river, protecting existing habitats and recreating habitats lost to rising water levels.

London is currently protected by the Thames Barrier, which is made up of 10 steel gates spanning 520 metres across the river near Woolwich and has been operational since 1982.

The barrier is designed to provide protection for London until at least 2070.

The ZSL study said a resilient future for both people and wildlife will depend on protecting remaining natural habitats, reconnecting and restoring habitats, and innovating new ways to maximise opportunities for wildlife in the urban environment.

Proposals to restore natural habitats include the creation of new ‘estuary edges’ and saltmarsh habitat, and plans for the re-wetting of floodplains in the Upper Tidal Thames.