Major floods have increased in frequency in many parts of the world, and this is often attributed to anthropogenic climate change. Because of the short length of most gauged records (∼50 yr), it is unclear whether these events represent a short-term anomaly or a shift to a prolonged flood-rich period. In this paper, we use event-scale paleoflood records from upland and lowland floodplains to demonstrate the relationship between individual flood events, clusters of events in multiyear episodes, and multidecadal- to centennial-scale flood-rich phases. Catchment- and regional-scale data show that individual events and episodes generally fall within extended flood-rich phases controlled by climate. Furthermore, contrary to recent suggestions that environmental signals may be rendered incomplete in fluvial systems by autogenic processes, from a multidecadal (and longer) perspective it is clear that floodplain environments can register and preserve a useful multiscale hydromorphic signal of climate change.

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