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.

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.

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