Klima Hero Istock-1218578263 Alexey Fedoren
| Press release

Storm surges: Only every second person feels endangered – sensitivity to climate change is decreasing.

Scientists at the Helmholtz Center in Geesthacht are conducting investigations into the way in which the people of Hamburg assess the risks of climate change. Storm surges and floods are considered to pose the greatest danger to the city. However, only every second person feels personally endangered.

How safe do people feel when living behind the dykes? Since 2008, the Institute of Coastal Research at the Helmholtz Centre Geesthacht has been conducting annual surveys of the population of Hamburg on the topic of climate change and its potential impact. One result: only every second person feels personally endangered. In order to ensure effective risk management procedures, it is essential to know how people perceive potential dangers and whether they are prepared for cases of emergency.

Fish market Hamburg under water

In November 2007, the cyclone Tilo swept over the North Sea, causing the highest water levels in Hamburg for eight years. The Hamburg Fish Market and low lying areas of the port were flooded. Photo: Christian Meyer

The huge storm surge, which occurred in the night from the 16th to the 17th of February 1962, brought the North Sea into the centre of Hamburg. The citizens of Hamburg usually perceive the sea as something very distant. However, the occurrence of severe storm surges has changed this perception.

Although there was little awareness of the dangers of storm surges prior to 1962, extensive investments were made in flood protection measures after this disaster. Life behind the dykes appeared to be safe once again. A possible rise in storm surges due to the effects climate change is also taken into account in present day flood protection measures. Nevertheless, very severe storm surges, such as in 1962, can reoccur.

According to currently available information, flood protection will retain its present effectiveness until approx. 2030; after this date, however, the situation will have to be reappraised. The inhabitants of potential flood areas should be made aware of the dangers and be prepared, at least mentally, for an occurrence which may appear to be inconceivable.

Scientists study Danger Assessment

Prof. Dr. Beate Ratter of the Institute of Coastal Research at the Helmholtz Center Geesthacht is conducting surveys of the people of Hamburg to obtain their assessment of climate change and the potential dangers for the city. As professor Ratter explains: “This knowledge regarding the population’s awareness of risks is important for disaster management. The sense of security which has been created since the storm surge of 1962 can have serious consequences in an emergency situation”.

The actions taken by officials and the public during a disaster can only function efficiently if the risks have been accurately assessed. Since 2008, the forsa Institute for Social Research and Statistical Analysis (Gesellschaft für Sozialforschung und statistische Analyse mbH), has been conducting annual telephone surveys on behalf of the Institute of Coastal Research, to question 500 citizens of Hamburg on their assessment of these dangers.

More than 80 percent regard storm surges as the greatest danger for Hamburg

Which natural disaster would have the most severe consequences? Approx. 80 percent of the people surveyed, who consider climate change to be a great or very great threat for Hamburg, see storm surges and floods as the greatest risk for the city. This figure has remained constant since 2008.

The threat posed to the city of Hamburg by climate change is viewed differently. In this case, there is a clear downward trend. In comparison: in 2008, 61 percent of the inhabitants of Hamburg considered climate change to be a very great to a great threat. In 2011, this was only 44 percent. However, 60 percent are expecting noticeable effects in the next 10 years. As in the previous years, it was predominantly men and people over 60 who assessed the consequences of climate change as less threatening.

Only nine percent of the citizens of Hamburg regard climate change as posing absolutely no threat to the city. On the question of how they felt affected personally, the values have remained almost constant in recent years. Approximately half of those questioned feels personally endangered by storm surges, heat waves or torrential rain.

The results of the study show: dangers due to the effects of climate change are deemed to be lower from year to year. This trend is clearly not a phenomenon which is restricted to Hamburg. The tendency can be observed worldwide. In the case of Hamburg other problems play a larger role: very high on the list are educational and transport policies. The surveys will continue in order to update the trend for risk awareness in Hamburg. The next survey will take place in March/April 2012.

Further Information

To the study: “Risikobewusstsein der Hamburger Bürger für den Klimawandel” (The awareness of Hamburg citizens of the risks posed by climate change) To the department: “Sozioökonomie des Küstenraumes” (“Socioeconomic Studies of Coastal Areas” at the Institute of Coastal Research


Dr. Torsten Fischer
Dr. Torsten Fischer Head of Press Department

Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht

Phone: +49 4152 87-1677

E-mail contact

Max-Planck-Straße 1
21502 Geesthacht