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A contemporary depiction of the flood
A contemporary depiction of the flood

Press Release - 26 January 2007

Researchers to decide if West Country flood was caused by tsunami

A forthcoming scientific forum could answer a 400-year old riddle: was the devastating flood in the West Country in 1607 caused by a tsunami?

The flood, on 30 January 1607, reached a speed of around 30 mph and a height of 25 feet, killing around 2,000 people.

It swept up to four miles inland in north Devon, Pembrokeshire, Glamorgan, Monmouthshire, Cardiff and Somerset. In the low-lying Somerset Levels, it reached 14 miles inland, to the foot of Glastonbury Tor.

In 2002 Professor Simon Haslett, Head of Geography at the Bath Spa University, and Dr Ted Bryant of the University of Wollongong, Australia, proposed the tsunami explanation over the idea that the flood was simply caused by a freak high tide.

Now a forum organised by Bath Spa University on Saturday 27 January at the University of Wales, Newport, is to discuss the latest ideas. Those wishing to attend should call 01225 875585 or email quaternary@bathspa.ac.uk

Professor Haslett and Dr Bryant will attend, as will Dr Philippe Blondel, an expert in tsunamis at the University of Bath’s Department of Physics.

Sediments collected from the shore of the Severn Estuary support the belief that the flood was caused by a tsunami, a huge wave triggered by an earthquake in the ocean bed or a landslide on the coast. There have been other tsunamis in the Atlantic Ocean in the past, including ones that struck Lisbon in 1755, the Azores in 1850 and Grand Banks off Canada in 1929.

Dr Blondel thinks that the 1607 tsunami may have been caused by an earthquake near the Mid-Atlantic Ridge or a landslide on the seabed off the south west of England.

“The exact cause of the 1607 flood is still unknown," said Dr Blondel. “But by using quantitative arguments, the likelihood of different hypotheses can be assessed.

“By understanding what happened, we can see how likely future tsunamis are and take appropriate action.”

Dr Blondel and his colleague, Dr Olga Gómez Sichi, will use the latest seabed maps and models of how tsunamis move to calculate where the origin of the wave might have been.


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