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Year 9 - Risky Earth - British Hazards

Britain is a risky place to live!

It is hard to believe at times but the British Isles are home to nearly every hazard on planet Earth.  Despite being far from a plate margin, Britain gets small earthquakes from old fault lines that run through the country.  Britain also has extinct volcanoes - Edinburgh castle is built on top of an ancient volcanic rock outcrop! Our most common hazards include floods, which seem to be increasing in intensity and frequency, cold weather - the winter of 2010-11 being a great example, and storms, brought to us by mid latitude depressions from the Atlantic.  We also get less obvious hazards, Britain gets over 30 Tornadoes a year, suffers from extreme coastal erosion, has been home to acts of terrorism, has had many heat waves and droughts (especially in the last 30 years) and even has had biological hazards - foot and mouth disease and mad cow's disease amongst a few examples. Sleep easy in your beds tonight!


Geographic Patterns

Seismic map of the UK

UK seismic map from 1832 to 1970 – what patterns can you identify? 

These hazards have a DISTINCT GEOGRAPHIC PATTERN of distribution.  The storms or depressions that bring windy and wet weather to Britain occur mainly in the WEST and the North, and the North West of Scotland gets these storms most often and at the greatest intensity.  Flooding occurs in low lying areas around rives and at the coast, and more people than ever are living in flood risk areas.  Extreme cold weather can affect all areas of the British Isles but is most likely in the North and at altitude, whereas heat waves are most likely in  the South East.  Tornadoes are most likely in the south in inland areas.

Some examples of major hazards include:

  • 1952 Lynmouth flood - 34 people were killed, with a further 420 made homeless. Over 100 buildings were destroyed
  • 1783 – the Laki Haze occurs where Sulphurous gas from eruption in Iceland suffocates an estimated 30,000 in Britain, followed by about 8,000 deaths in winter
  • 1918 flu pandemic – kills 250,000 in the UK and 40million worldwide
  • 1952 – Great smog - London experiences the worst air pollution event in British history. 12,000 killed and 100,000 made ill by its pollution
  • 1848 – Moray Firth fishing disaster - 100 fishermen and 124 boats lost at sea during a storm in Scotland
  • 1816 – the year without a summer - Crops devastated, unknown thousands die
  • In November and December of 1703 a storm with wind strengths up to 120mph killed 15,000, sank ships and ruined trees and buildings.
  • Winter of 2010 – 11 - Prolonged period of snowfall and sub-zero temperatures notable because it started so early on, in November, causing Christmas travel disruption across the UK and Europe and responsible for many deaths
  • An Avalanche in Lewes, England happened in 1836. Dozens were harmed, 8 killed when the UK's worst ever avalanche covered a street on the towns outskirts
  • A heat wave hit South Eastern England in August 2003 with temperatures of up to 38.5°C causing 2,139 deaths
  • An earthquake of 4.7 on the Richter scale (not the strongest to hit the UK) struck in 1884 in Colchester, Essex and the South East of England. It destroyed 12,000 homes, causing around 5 deaths.
  • 1990 Burns day floods - Winds of up to 100 mph kill 97 people and cause £3.37 billion worth of damage, the most costly weather event in British history.
  • Floods in the Bristol Channel killed 2,000 people and swept away settlements ruining the local economy. This was possibly caused by a (heavily disputed) tsunami in 1607.
  • 1235 – Famine in England; 20,000 die in London alone
  • 1665 - Bubonic plague killed an estimated 100,000 people, 20% of London's population
  • On 17 October 1091 a tornado of F4 in size caused 2 deaths, damaged the early London Bridge, 600 houses, many churches
  • 535-536 – Extreme weather - the most severe cooling in the Northern Hemisphere in the last 2,000 years, likely caused crop failures and freezing for the Anglo-Saxons.
  • The outbreak of Yersina Pestis or the Black Death wiped out 30% of Europe’s population and 1.5million people in England and Scotland in 1348. 

 Find out more:

Watch the videos below

Explore the National Environmental Research Council
What patterns can be observed above on the UK seismic map? 

Try the game below



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