To safely and economically design bridges, culverts, and other structures that are in or near streams (fig. 1 for example), it is necessary to determine the magnitude of peak streamflows such as the 100-year flow. Flood-frequency analyses use statistical methods to compute peak flows for selected recurrence intervals (100 years, for example). The recurrence interval is the average number of years between peak flows that are equal to or greater than a specified peak flow. Floodfrequency analyses are based on annual peak flows at a stream. It has long been assumed that annual peak streamflows are stationary over very long periods of time, except in river basins subject to urbanization, regulation, and other direct human activities.
Stationarity is the concept that natural systems fluctuate within an envelope of variability that does not change over time (Milly and others, 2008). Because of the potential effects of global warming on peak flows, the assumption of peak-flow stationarity has recently been questioned (Milly and others, 2008).
Maine has many streamgaging stations with 50 to 105 years of recorded annual peak streamflows. This long-term record has been tested for historical flood-frequency stationarity, to provide some insight into future flood frequency (Hodgkins, 2010). This fact sheet, prepared by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in cooperation with the Maine Department of Transportation (MaineDOT), provides a partial summary of the results of the study by Hodgkins (2010).
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Historical changes in annual peak flows in Maine and implications for flood-frequency analyses