Date of Award


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Civil Engineering (MS)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering


Veronica L. Webster


Current procedures for flood risk estimation assume flood distributions are stationary over time, meaning annual maximum flood (AMF) series are not affected by climatic variation, land use/land cover (LULC) change, or management practices. Thus, changes in LULC and climate are generally not accounted for in policy and design related to flood risk/control, and historical flood events are deemed representative of future flood risk. These assumptions need to be re-evaluated, however, as climate change and anthropogenic activities have been observed to have large impacts on flood risk in many areas. In particular, understanding the effects of LULC change is essential to the study and understanding of global environmental change and the consequent hydrologic responses. The research presented herein provides possible causation for observed nonstationarity in AMF series with respect to changes in LULC, as well as a means to assess the degree to which future LULC change will impact flood risk.

Four watersheds in the Midwest, Northeastern, and Central United States were studied to determine flood risk associated with historical and future projected LULC change. Historical single framed aerial images dating back to the mid-1950s were used along with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and remote sensing models (SPRING and ERDAS) to create historical land use maps. The Forecasting Scenarios of Future Land Use Change (FORE-SCE) model was applied to generate future LULC maps annually from 2006 to 2100 for the conterminous U.S. based on the four IPCC-SRES future emission scenario conditions. These land use maps were input into previously calibrated Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) models for two case study watersheds. In order to isolate effects of LULC change, the only variable parameter was the Runoff Curve Number associated with the land use layer. All simulations were run with daily climate data from 1978-1999, consistent with the 'base' model which employed the 1992 NLCD to represent 'current' conditions. Output daily maximum flows were converted to instantaneous AMF series and were subsequently modeled using a Log-Pearson Type 3 (LP3) distribution to evaluate flood risk.

Analysis of the progression of LULC change over the historic period and associated SWAT outputs revealed that AMF magnitudes tend to increase over time in response to increasing degrees of urbanization. This is consistent with positive trends in the AMF series identified in previous studies, although there are difficulties identifying correlations between LULC change and identified change points due to large time gaps in the generated historical LULC maps, mainly caused by unavailability of sufficient quality historic aerial imagery. Similarly, increases in the mean and median AMF magnitude were observed in response to future LULC change projections, with the tails of the distributions remaining reasonably constant. FORE-SCE scenario A2 was found to have the most dramatic impact on AMF series, consistent with more extreme projections of population growth, demands for growing energy sources, agricultural land, and urban expansion, while AMF outputs based on scenario B2 showed little changes for the future as the focus is on environmental conservation and regional solutions to environmental issues.