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Modelling reveals Storegga tsunami that hit Scotland 8,200 years ago would wipe out whole towns today

Written by on 4 June 2021

A tsunami that hit the coast of Scotland 8,200 years ago would have devastated entire towns if it happened today, new modelling has revealed.

The Storegga tsunami occurred when glacial and interglacial sediments shifted on the coastal slopes at Storegga – along Norway’s continental shelf in the Norwegian sea.

It is considered to be the largest natural catastrophe to happen around the UK in the past 11,000 years.

At the time it affected 373 miles of coastline, but scientists have now been able to model the modern-day impact of the disaster for the first time.

They show that the ancient wave reached 98ft (30m) high and would have travelled 19 miles (30km) inland, wiping out areas such as the town of Montrose in Angus – home to 12,000 people.

Storegga tsunami Image: This map shows the town of Montrose in Angus, Scotland and how it would have been impacted by the wave today

The research, published in the Boreas journal, was carried out by experts at the Universities of St Andrews, Sheffield and York – 30 years after the disaster was first discovered.

Lead author Professor Mark Bateman of Sheffield’s department of geography explained that the modelling was made possible by analysing soil deposits left by the wave.

He said: “Though there is no similar threat from Norway today, the UK could still be at risk from flooding events from potential volcanic eruptions around the world, such as those predicted in the Canary Islands.

“These would cause a similar resulting tsunami wave due to the amount of material that would be displaced by the volcano.

Storegga tsunami Image: Red on this chart shows the extent of the wave impact inland in Scotland

“These models give us a unique window into the past to see how the country was, and could be affected again.”

Using sedimentology and luminescence the researchers were able to determine the age, number and power of each of the tsunami waves.

Professor Dave Tappin, of the British Geological Survey, commented: “The research highlights the importance of applying new scientific techniques to older-studied events, thereby improving our knowledge of their impact.”

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