About Professor Simon Haslett

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Cardiff, Wales, United Kingdom
Professor of Physical Geography and Pro Vice-Chancellor at the University of Wales and the University of Wales Trinity Saint David.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Tsunami Risk to Nuclear Power in the Bristol Channel

Professor Haslett's interview on BBC1 Inside Out South West programme last night about tsunami risk to nuclear power stations in the Bristol Channel is now available to watch on iPlayer. The interview starts at 20 mins into the programme. The programme is to be repeated on BBC1 Inside Out West region (Bristol) on Monday 16th January 2012 at 7.30pm.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Research - Teaching Practice in Wales 2011 Conference Resources

Resources from the Research-Teaching Practice in Wales conference I convened at the University of Wales Gregynog Hall, 13-14th September 2011, are available from this link.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Earthquakes, tsunami and nuclear power: relevance of the 1607 flood in the Bristol Channel.

An article I recently wrote on the relevance of the 1607 flood in the Bristol Channel and Severn Estuary to nuclear power stations is now available in printed form and as an Amazon Kindle eBook. This research is to be featured in a BBC Southwest 'Inside, Out' programme due to be broadcast on BBC1 South West on 5th December 2011 and BBC1 West on 16th January 2012.

Following the Japanese earthquake and tsunami of March 2011, and the impact on nuclear power facilities, coastal communities around the world are re-evaluating the potential risk from tsunami hazard. Although the coastline of Britain has experienced few large tsunami some have occurred, such as tsunami generated by the prehistoric Storegga submarine slide and the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. Also, in southwest Britain, a flood in 1607 inundated lowlands along 540km of the Bristol Channel and the Severn Estuary coast, killing approximately 2000 people and causing much damage. The source of the 1607 flood is disputed, being caused either by a storm surge or tsunami. Evidence for two earthquakes in 1607 is presented here for the first time, suggesting this was a seismically active period. This has relevance for future planning of nuclear power facilities in the Bristol Channel, which is currently the location of the Hinkley, Oldbury, and (now decommissioned) Berkeley nuclear power stations.
Keywords: earthquake, tsunami, nuclear power, Bristol Channel, Severn Estuary, coastal flood, storm surge. 

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Coast and The Great British Weather: Geography on the BBC

A new TV series The Great British Weather started tonight on BBC1. I was approached by the production company for this series last autumn for my academic input about weather and climate, and went to see them in London in early December with several follow up phone calls. I'm so glad that the idea reached fruition and is now live on our screens. Like most things in geography, the weather has been neglected on TV (other than forecasts), so it's great to see it broadcast, and to see the positive public response through the @bbcbritweather Twitter feed.

I'm really sorry to have missed the first episode, and it's not on iPlayer, as I was on a train to Wrexham where I'm giving a lecture tomorrow as part of the Wrexham Science Festival. My lecture is entitled The 1607 flood: a tsunami in the Bristol Channel and is about a coastal flood that killed around 2000 people in south west Britain just over 400 years ago. Historians have attributed the flood to the weather - a storm and an associated sea surge - but some accounts state the weather was fine that day! Because of this it is worth considering alternative flood causes and one option is a tsunami!

A tsunami theory for the 1607 flood was published my Dr Ted Bryant and myself back in 2003 and we undertook field work in 2004 to gather evidence to either disprove or support the theory. Coincidentally, I appeared on this weeks episode of BBC2 Coast talking about about our theory with BBC presenter and fellow geographer Nick Crane. I spent a very sunny and pleasant afternoon with Nick last August along the South Wales coast. We talked and filmed a lot, but only a fraction made it into the final cut. In the photograph below you can see us armed with a measuring wheel as we great fun establishing cliff retreat rates and all sorts!

During the research I carried out with Ted, we didn't find anything that disproved the tsunami theory, but at the same time struggled to find solid evidence. In response to our theory, colleagues elsewhere showed that storms could flood the coast to the extent experienced in 1607, but we're still not convinced by the contemporary accounts that it was a storm flood, and other academics have stated that there might have been an earthquake felt that day? If nothing else, this is a good example of a scientific controversy that remains topical and unresolved.

Ted and I have made two BBC2 Timewatch documentaries about our tsunami theories in Britain. The Killer Wave of 1607 was broadcast in 2005 shortly after the terrible Indian Ocean tsunami, and a follow up, Britain's Forgotten Floods was screened in October 2008 about other tsunamis in Britain, including Cornwall! Public interest in the 1607 flood was then rekindled on the 400th anniversary.

The continued topicality of our research is shown by interest, following the Japan tsunami in March, from those concerned about nuclear power and the locating of nuclear power stations in the Bristol Channel, such as Hinkley Point and Oldbury-on-Severn; even French newspapers like La Tribune have picked it up! Also, with a small tsunami striking the coast of Cornwall last month, speculated to have been caused by an undersea landslide, interest is high.

So in this one week geography has appeared prominently on the BBC and is engaging the public and people are clearly learning, but it's a shame these two programmes aren't explicitly linked to subject of geography, in the same way that history programmes are. Nevertheless, I'm really pleased to have been involved in both Coast and The Great British Weather and hope we'll see more such programmes in the future.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

A tsunami in Cornwall?

Under two weeks ago on Monday 27th June, news was reported by the media of a tsunami hitting the coast of Cornwall and along the coast of southern England as far east as Hampshire. The height of the wave was estimated to be up to 1m, but many accounts suggest it was much smaller. Fishermen on beaches in Mounts Bay observed withdrawal of the sea before the wave came ashore and made a hasty retreat, which is very sensible.

The only footage I can find of the wave is from an estuary, which may be the Yealm:

Newspapers were quick to quote Dr Martin Davidson from Plymouth who suggested that the tsunami may have been caused by a submarine slide, which is possible. But given the numerous thunderstorms taking place within the region that week, it may be a meteorological tsunami. Indeed, this event is similar to an event that occurred in the region on 18th August 1892; the following is extracted from a scientific paper I co-authored on thunderstorm generated meteo-tsunami published in 2009:

"Haslett and Bryant (2009) present newspaper reports stating that “a series of tidal waves” occurred along the western English Channel coast in the estuary of the River Yealm where “a good deal of damage was done to boats moored in the river” (Penny Illustrated, 1892, p. 6). The Times (1892a) also reports this event in the River Yealm as well as stating that “there was a rapid rise in the River Fowey as a great tidal wave, but this immediately subsided” (p. 4). ...... The Times (1892b) report thunderstorms in the English Channel that day and Davison (1924) considers that they generated the large tsunami-like waves." (from Haslett et al., 2009, Physics and Chemistry of the Earth).

The British Geological Survey have produced a good evaluation report of the event and cite and extract from my paper (Haslett et al., 2009) as evidence for their preferred view that it was a meteo-tsunami.

Therefore, this small tsunami event could have been caused by an undersea landslide or, more likely perhaps, as a meteo-tsunami. It should be possible to analyse the meteorological conditions at the time to establish if that was the cause, but less so if it was a slide. This is an interesting event that highlights our ignorance of and risk from tsunami-like occurrences around the coast of the British Isles.

Less than a month before this event, on 29th May, I gave the Annual Kelliwic Lecture in Cornwall entitled "The Hell of Higher Water: tsunami and the Cornish coast"; I imagine my audience would not have expected a Cornish tsunami in the news so soon after it:
In this lecture I outline the history of tsunami in Cornwall, including the 1755 Lisbon event, but a number others too. Most of this is based on research that myself and co-author Dr Ted Bryant have published over the past 10 years or so. If anyone is interested, the main papers that relate to tsunamis in Cornwall are:

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Tsunami risk in Britain

Interview I gave with The Times on the tsunami risk to Britain, including the my research with Ted Bryant on the 1607 flood, the 1755 Lisbon tsunami, the prehistoric Storegga tsunami, and the 1884 Essex earthquake that generated a small tsunami in the Colne Estuary (near Colchester) and in the London Thames.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Japan tsunami highlights need for a review of warning systems response.

Tsunami are unpredictable hazards, yet for many years geographers like myself have been attempting to educate residents of tsunami-prone areas with what to do if warned that the arrival of a tsunami is imminent.

The standard advice for coastal residents that feel an earthquake or who have been issued with a tsunami warning is to get up high. Preferably this should be interpreted as meaning get to higher ground, but on coastal lowlands the advice is to go into the upper floors of buildings and even in some countries the advice is to adopt a palm tree and climb to the top of it to get above the flow of the tsunami! One shouldn't try to escape inland unless the ground rises quickly as tsunami can penetrate many kilometres inland on coastal lowlands travelling at the speed of a 30mph car - it's difficult to outrun if roads are jammed with traffic or debris from any preceding earthquake.

In the Indian Ocean tsunami of 26 December 2004 this advice served well in many places away from the earthquake epicentre, except Banda Aceh, with even hotels located on the beach surviving the tsunami strike and people who managed to get upstairs on the whole were OK; it was people who were stranded on beaches or in streets or on coastal plains that sadly made up the majority of the c. 250,000 victims.

Friday's 8.9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami in Japan made most of this advice almost useless. Eyewitnesses have reported that tsunami warning sirens sounded within a minute of the earthquake, so the warning system worked well. But what were residents supposed to do in response?

Within a few ten’s of minutes, due to the close proximity of the coast to the earthquakes epicentre, the tsunami quickly mounted the coastal lowlands near the city of Sendai in northeast Japan. High ground is kilometres inland in this region so the only survival tactic available to the residents was to go into the higher floors of buildings. However, the height, speed and power of the tsunami was so great that it demolished many buildings in its path.

Each building the tsunami destroyed contributed to the debris it had armed itself with as it progressed inland from the shore. So with boats, shipping containers, cars, and building debris, the tsunami effectively became a bulldozer flattening all in its path. Only a few tall buildings, such as the five-storey hospital in Shizugawa remained standing, but even here staff evacuated patients from the lower floors up into the third floor only for the tsunami to submerge that floor and the fourth floor above! Only the fifth floor and roof top stayed above the torrent. Fleeing inland was also difficult as the tsunami apparently penetrated around 10km inland in some places.

What advice can coastal scientists give to residents living in such areas as northeast Japan and Banda Aceh? Building high and sturdy refuge platforms may be an option, as have been built elsewhere, but even these may not have withstood the force of Friday's tsunami. Scientists now need to think long and hard about how we might be able to better prepare, educate and protect people who live in coastal lowland areas like Sendai who face considerable risk from such an unstoppable tsunami.

Interactive Google Map of the area around Sendai, northeast Japan. The earthquake epicentre is located c. 130km to the east.

View Larger Map

Friday, 11 March 2011

Japan Earthquake and Tsunami

My wife texted me on my way to work at 7.53am to say the BBC were trying to get in touch for an interview about a tsunami that struck Japan a little over an hour before at c. 5.45am GMT (14:46 local time). I was interviewed on BBC Radio Wales just before 9am. You can listen to it at http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/radiowales/sites/goodmorningwales/.

I'm curently watching the BBC live coverage of the tsunami at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12307698. It's currently (9.13am) showing a whirlpool (vortex) in the tsunami flow offshore east Japan (at Ibaraki).

9.23am: A 1-2m high tsunami is predicted to hit Indonesia in about 2 hours. Poorly constructed houses at the coast will be vulnerable and people are beinga dvised to move inland.

9.25am: Sendai airport in Japan is currently being inundated by the tsunami - seems quite deep from the TV broadcast. Carrying lots of debris that will cause damage as it colides with buildings, etc.

9.33am: Map from BBC News

The magnitude of the earthquake has just been re-estimated at 8.8. Hokaido is warned of a significant tsuanmi arrival.

9.52am: Phillipines coastal residents are advised to move to higher ground until Governments says it's safe to go back. A series of tsunami waves are predicted to hit in less than 2 hours.

10.12am: Tsunami has arrived at Taiwan at only 10cm, which is good news. Seafloor bathymetry seems to have dampened the wave height.

10.18am: Tsunami warning alert has now been issued for New Zealand's north coast due to arrive in 7 hours (early morning in NZ local time). People should avoid the coast and stay off beaches.

10.22am: Just compiled these screenshots from the BBC TV news coverage:

10.43am: There is concern that the tsunami may be higher than the altitude of some of the small Pacific islands.

11.45am: Tsunami warning in Taiwan and New Zealand has now been lifted. "The BBC's Greg Ward in New Zealand says authorities have downgraded the tsunami threat. They say there is now a marine threat only. This means strong and unusual currents are possible in the sea, river mouths and estuaries, but no land threat is expected".

The BBC are interviewing me on BBC Wales 1pm News and BBC Radio 5 Live News at 5pm about the tsunami.

12.01pm: Earthquake now upgraded to 8.9 magnitude - largest on record in the region.

YouTube video of the tsunami inundation at Sendai Airport:

YouTube video of News Report:

12.09pm: BBC reports that mudslides had been triggered by the earthquake and some buildings affected with people possibly trapped.

12.10pm: Tsunami just hit Moluccas Islands north of Sulawesi, but fortunately less than 0.5m high.

12.16pm: Just watching Dr Roger Musson, British Geological Survey, explaining the earthquake cause at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-12712422

I was interviewed on BBC Radio Wales 1 o'clock News: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00yyfk4

13.33pm: Tsunami now reached Hawaiian Island chain, predicted to be around 2m high, but not sure what the actual height is yet. See http://edition.cnn.com/2011/US/03/11/tsunami/

13.50pm:Tsunami arrived earlier at the Midway Islands with a height between 1.5 and 2m: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2011-03-11-Tsunami-Hawaii_N.htm?csp=hf

14.33pm: Hawaii wave heights are coming in at 0.9m, but could grow within the wave train. Often the second wave to arrive is the largest, but there could be several waves within the wave train.

14.38pm: Tsunami waves now arriving in Hawaii at 1.7-1.8m in height.

14.45pm: Worrying news "The official Kyodo news agency is reporting that about 88,000 people are missing". Also "earlier, the tsunami reached the Philippines, but did not cause any damage. Renato Solidum, head of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, said that waves ranging from 30cm to 70cm were recorded in five provinces facing the Pacific Ocean between 1800 and 2000 local time. He warned that more might follow, although they would be smaller. Tens of thousands of people living in coastal areas were earlier evacuated to higher ground." (BBC News).

15.10pm: BBC just released special report on Japan earthquake and tsunami, containing some useful resources, video clips, images, etc, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-12711226

15.17pm: Some terrifying photographs of tsunami inundation in the National Post: http://news.nationalpost.com/photo_gallery/photos-massive-quake-unleashes-tsunami-on-japan/

15.30pm: It now seems that the worst of the tsunami damage has now occurred and it is unlikely that tsunami wave heights will pose a significant risk elsewhere in the Pacific. It is clear that the worst tsunami affected area is the northeast Japanese coast close to the earthquake epicenter, where a 10m high tsunami penetrated 10km inland, but fortunately tsunami wave heights were lower elsewhere. The reasons why the tsunami was not as devasting away from the epicenter as the 2004 Indian Ocean event is due to the earthquake being of a lower magnitude, the length of seabed fault displacement was smaller, and also away from Japan other Pacific coastlines tend to be in deep water protecting coasts in not allowing tsunami waves to shoal in shallow water and grow in height. Some reports are suggesting 88,000 people are missing in Japan, including a missing passenger ship and train.

Other effects of the earthquake inlcude mudslides in Japan and a report just coming in (15.42pm) of a dam bursting in Japan. And new tsunami footage from Ofunato is now being shown on the BBC too showing cargo containers being moved by the tsunami flow. The New York Times has also posted a galerry of images too http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/03/11/world/asia/20110311_japan.html?ref=asia#1

I am going back to the BBC studio in Cardiff at 4pm for an interview for BBC Radio 5 Live's 5 o'clock news programme. I'm unlikely now to blog further today, but may continue tweeting. I am happy to answer questions readers may have, so feel free to post a comment. I have also started a discussion thread on my Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Prof-Simon-Haslett/86610699297 if you prefer to use Facebook, so please post a reply there.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Action Research Resources for Learning and Teaching

Yesterday I attended a masterclass by Professor Jack Whitehead at the University of Wales, Newport, on action research in learning and teaching, and I just thought I’d disseminate a few of the resources (they would be useful to know about for staff development as action research is an excellent way for improving one’s own teaching skills, and is an assessed part of many PGCert HE courses).

• Prof Whitehead has created a website http://www.actionresearch.net/ that hosts a number of free resources, including access to the theses of all his PhD students, which he calls Living Theory theses.

• There is a link to the open-access Educational Journal of Living Theories, which publishes multimedia peer-reviewed paper – it’s worth having a look at some of the titles as they are insightful.

• There is also a link to a JISCMail listserv you can sign up for to join the Practitioner-Researcher community.

• Finally, one of his co-workers, Jean McNiff, has a useful website too: http://www.jeanmcniff.com/

Monday, 17 January 2011

Great Flood of 1607: tsunami or storm?

Eddie Butler and Simon Haslett filming Hidden Histories

Woodcut of the 1607 flood

BBC2 Wales are broadcasting Hidden Histories on Thursday 20th January 2011 at 7.30pm featuring a piece about the theory I put forward with a colleague that the Great Flood of 1607 in the Severn Estuary and Bristol Channel was actually caused by a tsunami and not a storm. I was interviewed by the programmes presenter, Eddie Butler, back early last summer, so will hopefully appear in the show. Given the continued public interest in this research I thought it would be worth repeating it here:
Professor Simon Haslett, Dean of the School of STEM at the University of Wales, and Dr Ted Bryant of the University of Wollongong (Australia) researched the possibility that a devastating coastal flood that struck southwest Britain in 1607 was caused by a tsunami. They published their tsunami theory in a paper in 2003 in the journal Archaeology in the Severn Estuary that hit the news and were subsequently involved in the filming of a BBC Timewatch programme Killer Wave of 1607 about it during summer 2004. The programme was broadcast April 2005 and attracted alot of public interest.

Ted Bryant being filmed for Killer Wave of 1607 
400 Years On!
The 400th anniversary of the 1607 flood was commemorated by a public scientific forum organised by Professor Haslett on the cause and impact of the 1607 coastal flooding event on Sat 27th January 2007 at the University of Wales, Newport. In addition, BBC2 repeated Timewatch Killer Wave of 1607 in January 2007 to coincide with the commemorative events, BBC Somerset Sound produced a special 2 hour programme, and BBC News featured it on the national and regional news.

Simon Haslett in the field filming Killer Wave of 1607
The 400 Years On! public forum included a distinguished panel of speakers: Professor Simon Haslett (then at Bath Spa University), Dr Ted Bryant (University of Wollongong, Australia), Dr Kevin Horsburgh (Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory), Dr Philippe Blondel (University of Bath), Richard Brunning (Somerset County Council), Dr Andrew Skellern (Bath Spa University), and Chaired by Dr Paul Davies (Bath Spa University). The forum was kindly sponsored by Aquatility.
 Also, it gives great satisfaction to see that the local communities of the Gwent Levels in South Wales have combined to commemorate Flood 400. The commemoration began Tuesday 30th January 2007 at Redwick Church. A weekend of events was held on 25-28th May 2007 at which Haslett and Bryant presented a poster. For more information visit the website.

Current thinking
Initial field and laboratory research undertaken by Professor Haslett and Dr Bryant to test their tsunami theory for the 1607 flood is published in 2007 in academic journals.

In the Journal of Geology (vol. 115, pp. 253-269), they presented evidence from erosional features and boulders that a large tsunami has almost certainly struck the coasts of the Bristol Channel and Severn Estuary in the past. Evidence derived from rates of cliff retreat at Dunraven Bay, Glamorgan suggests that the 1607 event is a candidate for this tsunami.

In Marine Geology (vol. 242, pp. 207-220), evidence from coarse sediment layers throughout the region is examined and dated using the radiocarbon method. Whilst some coarse layers could have been deposited during the 1607 flood, layers featured on the BBC2 Timewatch programme at Rumney Great Wharf and in North Devon return radiocarbon dates that are too young to have been laid down by the 1607 flood, and are more likely to be the result of the Great Storm of 1703. However, this dating evidence from Rumney confirms a previous view that for some reason all the salt marshes fringing the Severn Estuary had been completely eroded away prior to the mid 17th century, possibly by the 1607 event.

Their current thinking is that a tsunami has indeed hit the shores of the Bristol Channel and Severn Estuary sometime in the past, but although considerable evidence supports 1607 as the most likely candidate this cannot be confirmed, and perhaps there has been more than one tsunami. Indeed, after Haslett and Bryant published a major review they made a follow-up BBC2 Timewatch programme entitled Britain's Forgotten Floods, which was broadcasted in October 2008 that investigated a number of possible tsunami events that have affected other parts of the British Isles.

PLEASE Theory of Change Evaluation Framework

On the train to the Personal Learning Environments in Active field Science Evaluation (PLEASE) Advisory Board meeting in Birmingham. We’ve been asked to do some pre-meeting work by completing a Theory of Change components framework at the start of the project. Here are my thoughts under the three headings we’ve been asked to address:

Current Situation - This is based on my last experience of leading a student field course in 2007.

1. Fieldwork required a lot of pre-field planning and bulky resources to be transported:
2. Mobile library of books, papers, and maps.
3. A range of personal field equipment e.g. notebooks, cameras, compass, clinometers, hammer, trowels, knife, etc.
4. Extensive pre-field work planning assuming no information would be available in the field.
5. Assume little communication with the Department back home.
6. Takes time to make field data available, usually weeks/months, following field trip.
7. Paranoid about losing data in the field e.g. film canisters or memory cards, written notes, physical samples, etc.
8. Any students left back at the Department are ‘in the dark’ about what is going on in the field and little news in general back at the Department, so not doesn’t contribute to research culture in real time.
9. Difficult for students and tutors to communicate with each other in real time if not together in the field i.e. students undertaking lone field work (e.g. dissertation), or staff undertaking field research.
10. Only some regard for the environmental impact and sustainability of field work.

Desired Outcomes - I would appreciate guidance on how to:

1. Better communicate in real time in the field, including lecturing to and from the field.
2. Optimise and integrate the use of gadgets and equipment.
3. Optimise and integrate the use of online social media platforms.
4. Use field work in distance learning courses.
5. Convert real field work to virtual field work.
6. Archive field data and experience.
7. Share field resources e.g. as Open Educational Resources (OERs).
8. Maximise and integrate information collected e.g. geotagging, date, location.
9. Maximise the value of field learning under financial constraints i.e. value for money and value addedness.
10. Conduct more sustainable field work.

Longer-term impact - In the long-term I would like to see:

1. Wider use of field work in Higher Education as a learning device.
2. Better live communication between students and tutors to and from the field location.
3. An enhanced culture of sharing field resources e.g. OERs.
4. Growth in field work archives e.g. data, location details, including logistics.
5. Better integration of field work with teaching and learning situations e.g. go live to students in the field whilst in a lecture with other students. It would be great to ‘blur the boundaries’ between different Teaching and Learning contexts.
6. Field research for developing deep and autonomous learners with tutor and peer support.
7. All field work conducted with regard to the environment and sustainable development.

Student contract research reported in Times Higher Education

Research funded by the University of Wales, Newport, Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) is featured in the current issue of Times Higher Education. The research on student contracts was undertaken by Dr Ruth Gaffney-Rhys and Joanna Jones of the Newport Business School and published in the journal Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education.