27 December 2012

The British Geological Survey issues a landslide warning for SW England

Posted by Dave Petley

The unusual spell of very prolonged and intense rainfall across the UK is continuing, with the Met Office forecasting more to come in the coming days.  Reports of landslides continue to flood in from around Britain – for example in the Highlands of Scotland the A890 is blocked once again at Stromeferry – this is the same section of road that caused so many problems last year.  Yesterday, the BGS and the Met Office took the highly unusual step of issuing a landslide warning for SW England, primarily because conditions are now so saturated that landslides are inevitable.  There is particular concern around coastal cliffs, which in the UK are often mantled with landslides. Beaches are popular with walkers, meaning that there is a danger of rockfalls onto people, whilst cliff tops in the UK are the sites of highly popular coastal footpaths.  The dangers are obvious.

Meanwhile, it is good to see that these extreme conditions are driving the media to provide increased coverage to the changes that we are now seeing in the climate.   Although climate change denialists will undoubtedly disagree, there is no doubt that extreme conditions are becoming increasingly normal.  Unfortunately, this is just the start.

One of the frustrations about the current situation is the lack of decent online data about the ground conditions in the UK.  It is difficult to know how the state of groundwater, especially in deep landslide systems, meaning that the likelihood of movement in these potentially damaging systems is difficult to estimate.  It must be time to invest in a proper natural hazards observatory for the UK, with real-time data.  This could be modelled on GEONET in New Zealand, providing a resource that would be useful to hazard managers, the public, schools and scientists (as well as bloggers of course!).  At a time when research impact is so high on the agenda in the UK, this would be an interesting step.