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.

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.

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