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The 1607 Flood: a tsunami in the Bristol Channel?


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Presentation by Professor Simon Haslett to the Geographical Association at King's College, Taunton, on Tuesday 15th November 2012.

A presentation based on research featured in 'Killer Wave of 1607' as broadcast by BBC2 Timewatch. The flood of that year in the Bristol Channel and Severn Estuary was the worst ever recorded in the British Isles. The area affected stretched from North Devon, through Somerset and Gloucestershire, and along the South Wales coast from Monmouthshire to Carmarthenshire, some 570 km of coast! The coastal population was devastated with at least 2000 fatalities according to one of the contemporary sources. In some parts of the coast the population never recovered from the social and economic disaster. Simon and his co-worker have used documentary and fieldwork evidence to propose a new interpretation of its cause as a tsunami. The BBC produced a follow-up Timewatch programme entitled 'Britain’s Forgotten Floods' that followed Simon around the British coastline examining further evidence for tsunami impact.

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The 1607 Flood: a tsunami in the Bristol Channel?

  1. 1. The 1607 Flood A tsunami in the Bristol Channel? Lecture to the Geographical Association King’s College, Taunton 15th November 2012Professor Simon Haslett @ProfSHaslettUniversity of WalesWith Dr Ted Bryant, University of Wollongong
  2. 2. My co-author: Dr Ted Bryant 2001, Cambridge University Press
  3. 3. Our research is still topical! • BBC2 Coasts • Wales – Border to Border • Still being repeated at present. • Tsunami in Cornwall in 2011! • Also, featuring in the nuclear power debate as a risk.
  4. 4. Friday 11th March 2011Japan Tsunami
  5. 5. Evidence of the 1607 flood 1Contemporary historic pamphlets giving the:1. date (20th Jan 1606 = 30th Jan 1607)2. timing (“about nine in the morning” in Somerset)3. details of damage (2000 deaths and great economic loss).
  6. 6. Burnham 1607 tides (HW at 8.28am)
  7. 7. Evidence of the 1607 flood 2• Commemorative plaques and inscriptions in/on churches in South Wales and Somerset.
  8. 8. Evidence of the 1607 flood 2Redwick Church, Gwent
  9. 9. Tsunami theory for the 1607 floodSome contradictory meteorological reportse.g. “a violent sea wind” (Camden, 1607) vs. “the morning … so fayrely and brightly spred” (Harleian Miscellany, 1607).Descriptions of a “wave” reminiscent of a tsunami rather than a storm e.g. “wave’s furie”.Extract from God’s warning to his people of England
  10. 10. Extracts from Lamentable Newes out of Monmouthshire Wave velocityInland Penetration
  11. 11. Tsunami theory (cont.)Enigmatic physical features:1. Sand layers possibly deposited by “storms” (e.g. Rumney and Hill; Allen, 1987, 1992).2. Erosion of nearly all contemporary salt-marsh in the Severn Estuary (Allen, 1987).3. Land erosion (e.g. English Stones, Gravel Banks and Oldbury, where seabanks were reset in the early C17th when “environmental change forced a substantial south-easterly retreat of the edge of the alluvial outcrop”, Allen & Fulford, 1992, pp. 96-97).
  12. 12. Click here to read paper.
  13. 13. Testing the tsunami theory: The 2004 Field Season• Visit key locations mentioned in the pamphlets and gain background detail.• Examine coastal landscapes and sample sedimentary sequences for tsunami signatures (e.g. Bryant, 2001).• Investigate enigmatic sites identified by Bryant & Haslett (2002) e.g. Rumney, Hill, Oldbury and collect samples.• Undertake laboratory analysis of samples.
  14. 14. Sampling theRumney sand layer
  15. 15. Measuring boulderdimensions atDunraven Bay
  16. 16. Viewer’s letters examples• 2.8 million viewers watched the 1st April broadcast (5 million now for all broadcasts)!• Hundreds of letters and emails received.• Location of gravestones of 1607 victims.• Location of a mass grave of 1607 victims.• Other tsunami-like waves experienced in the Bristol Channel (on fine days).• Locations of unpublished sand layers.• Forgotten historic documents (maps, parish records, etc).• Other academics initiating research in the area.• Offers of help in the field!
  17. 17. Cause of a possible tsunami• Submarine landslide off the continental slope west of the British Isles: our preferred cause, but discounted by others.• Earthquake: Roger Musson, BGS (2005, BBC2 Timewatch), favours activity along a fault off south-west Ireland, which Bill McGuire (2005, New Scientist) highlights.• Volcanic eruption/comet impact possible?
  18. 18. Submarine slideSource: GEBCO bathymetry
  19. 19. Further Reading• Somerset Landscapes: Geology and Landscapes• Case study: The 1607 flood• Includes relevant bibliography• £16.99 from Amazon• Special offer £10 tonight• Or email• State ‘Taunton’ in email• You’ll be sent a discount link – £10 (+ £2.80 p&p) – Valid until end of November 2012• THANKS TO: