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Tsunamis in the United Kingdom: Map


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Tsunami waves are so rare in the United Kingdommarker that there have only been two confirmed tsunamis in recorded history. A third event may have possibly been a tsunami, but is unconfirmed.

Scotland and Doggerland, 6100 BC

The east coast of Scotlandmarker was struck by a high tsunami around 6100 BC, during the Mesolithic period. The wave was caused by the massive underwater Storegga slidemarker off Norway, which dates from around the same time. The tsunami even washed over some of the Shetland Islandsmarker. Tsunamite (the deposits left by a tsunami) dating from this event can be found at various locations around the coastal areas of Scotland, and are also a tourist feature in the Montrose Basinmarker, where there is a thick layer of deposited sand about thick.

At the time, what became the east coast of England was connected to the areas of modern Denmarkmarker and the Netherlandsmarker by a low-lying land bridge, now known to archaeologists as Doggerland. The area is believed to have had a coastline of lagoons, marshes, mudflats, and beaches, and may have been the richest hunting, fowling and fishing ground in Europe then available. Much of this land would have been inundated by the tsunami, with a catastrophic impact on the local human population.

Cornwall, 1755

The coast of Cornwallmarker was hit by a three metre high tsunami on 1 November 1755, at around 14:00. The waves were caused by the 1755 Lisbon earthquakemarker. The tsunami took almost four hours to reach the UK, and by the time the waves reached Cornwall they had lost most of their destructive power. Reports from historical Cornish records say that there were three of these tsunami waves, and that the sea receded very quickly, then rose up. At St Michael's Mountmarker, the sea rose suddenly and then retired; ten minutes later, it rose 6 ft (1.8 m) feet very rapidly, then ebbed equally rapidly. The sea rose 8 ft (2.4 m) in Penzancemarker and 10 ft (3.0 m) at Newlynmarker; the same effect was reported at St Ives and Hayle. Although there is no record of the overall death toll, the 19th Century French writer, Arnold Boscowitz, claimed that "great loss of life and property occurred upon the coasts of Cornwall".

The tsunami also reached the city of Galwaymarker in Irelandmarker, at a height of two metres, and caused some serious damage to the "Spanish Archmarker" section of the city wall.

Bristol Channel, 1607

The Bristol Channel floods, which happened on the morning of January 30th 1607, are suggested to be a tsunami either caused by an earthquake, a landslide from the Irish coast or a bad freak combination of high tides and a storm surge. There is historical evidence suggesting a tsunami, such eyewitness accounts describe a wave as "mighty hilles of water" - with sparks - and a wave that travelled so fast that not even a greyhound could escape it. Both are clear descriptions of a tsunami, Scientists and geologists say that after studying the disaster they are more convinced that it was a tsunami, rather than a simple storm surge.

Possible future tsunamis

Geologists have described potential future tsunami threats to Britain from three different causes. In the 1990s, they started realising that the Cumbre Viejamarker volcano in La Palmamarker, in North Africa in the Canary Islandsmarker could pose a tsunami risk to Britain, as it is seemingly unstable. They concluded that a future volcanic eruption will result in the mass of rock alongside the volcanoes breaking off and falling into the sea as a massive landslide. This in turn will generate a huge tsunami, which will surge into the Atlantic Oceanmarker and hit Spainmarker, Portugalmarker, the east coast of the United Statesmarker, Francemarker, and the south coast of Englandmarker. It is estimated that the waves will take around 6 hours to reach England, and that when they do they will be around 10 metres (30ft) high. Britain would be badly hit, and it is believed by some that if nothing is done, thousands of lives will be lost. However, there is considerable controversy about the accuracy of these predictions. Researchers at the Dutch Technical University at Delft found the island to be much more stable than was widely believed, estimating that it would take at least another 10,000 years for the island to grow enough for there to be a danger.

Another tsunami that some geologists believe is more or less inevitable, and which would affect Britain, would be caused by a huge landslide in Norwaymarker. In 2003, some geologists noticed that formerly frozen methane, beneath the ocean floor on the edge of the continental shelf off Norway, was weakening a vast section of land, not far from the place where the Storegga slidemarker occurred. They found enough evidence to conclude that one day it will result in a huge landslide that will send tsunami waves down the east coast of Britain. Some believe it may happen sometime in the next 200 years.

Another tsunami geologists believe will hit Britain would be caused by a huge earthquake on a fault off the coast of Portugalmarker; the same fault that caused the massive 1755 Lisbon earthquakemarker (see above). Strain has been accumulating on that fault, which will eventually result in the fault breaking again, creating another megathrust earthquake, which could be as big as the 1755 earthquake (which was an estimated magnitude 9). When the earthquake happens, the south coast of Englandmarker will definitely be affected by a tsunami, as it was in 1755. It will take around 4 hours for the tsunami to reach Cornwallmarker, which should be enough time to issue a warning.

Because of these threats, the government is making plans for a tsunami warning system for the United Kingdom. It is believed that the tsunami warning system should be ready by the end of the decade.

See also


  1. Patterson, W, "Coastal Catastrophe" (paleoclimate research document), University of Saskatchewan
  2. Vincent Gaffney, "Global Warming and the Lost European Country"
  3. Bernhard Weninger et al., The catastrophic final flooding of Doggerland by the Storegga Slide tsunami, Documenta Praehistorica XXXV, 2008


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