University of Wales focuses on floods

Posted on 6 February 2014
Simon Haslett camera

Professor Simon Haslett speaking to the media about coastal flooding in the Bristol Channel

As southwest Britain continues to be battered by winter storms, local communities are counting the cost and trying to understand what lies behind the recent extreme weather.

The coastline of Wales and southwest England has been particularly badly hit with storms causing coastal erosion and flooding, and severely affecting people living in these areas.

Simon Haslett, Professor of Physical Geography and Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor at the University of Wales, is an expert in coastal flooding and in understanding the impacts of climate change. He is also author of the book Coastal Systems and committed to the public understanding of science.

Professor Haslett has been researching the coastline of the Severn Estuary and Bristol Channel for over 20 years, and has appeared a number of times over the past few weeks on radio and television, responding to questions and helping to inform the public about the science behind the current situation.

Speaking about the current situation, Professor Haslett explained:

“The current flooding experienced around the coast of Wales and southwest England is not unprecedented – we have seen much worse –but the fact the recent storms have arrived in quick succession has meant that floods from one storm have not fully subsided before the next storm arrives,exacerbating the problem. The same is true for coastal erosion in that there’snot enough time to fully repair damaged sea defences between storms, so that subsequent storms exploit the weaknesses and cause further erosion.

During storms, strong onshore winds and low atmospheric pressure pile water up against sea defences so that, when high tide comes, the water spills over and causes coastal flooding. Also, heavy rainfall associated with a storm tries to flow to the sea but is held back by coastal floods,backing up the rivers, extending flooding many miles inland.

Climate change is very likely contributing to the situation by raising sea level, which my research suggests rises by about 2.5mm a year in the Bristol Channel, and by increasing the frequency and the general intensity of storms. What’s happening now fits with predictions made by models of climate change.”

On Tuesday 4th February, Professor Haslett appeared on BBC1 Points West, where he was interviewed about his flood research in Somerset. The programme also showed the Chancellor of the University of Wales, HRH Prince of Wales, visiting the flood stricken communities in the Somerset Levels. 

Professor Haslett is giving a public lecture on his research into the 1607 flood in Bristol Channel, Britain’s worst natural disaster, to the Newport Local History Society on Wednesday 5th March.

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