A MEGA TSUNAMI that smashed Scotland 8,200 years ago would devastate entire towns if it happened today, according to new research.
The Storegga tsunami, which affected 373 miles (600km) of coastline, was caused by the sudden collapse of a continental shelf near Norway.
The massive shift of ice and sediment churned up water which ripped across the North Sea at 80 miles per hour around 6200BC.
Researchers have now modelled the inland impact of the ancient wave, which is considered the largest natural catastrophe to happen in the UK in the last 11,000 years.
The models that show the wave, reaching up to 98ft (30m) in height, would have travelled up to 19 miles (30km) inland along the Scottish coast.
It would have devastated areas such as Montrose in Angus, a town of around 12,000 people with a coastal lagoon and nature reserve.
The study was led by researchers at the Universities of Sheffield, St Andrews and York.
Although the Storegga tsunami has been known about for years, this is the first time experts have modelled how far inland the wave travelled.
Researchers created the models by analysing the soil deposits left by the wave over 8,000 years ago.
Study lead author Prof Mark Bateman, from the University of Sheffield, said that, fortunately, there is no similar threat from Norway today.
What causes tsunamis?
Tsunami is a Japanese word used to describe huge waves – generally on oceans, but sometimes in lakes or large rivers.
Ocean tsunamis are caused by sudden motions, which displace a large amount of water.
This is typically an earthquake, but it could also be a volcanic eruption or underwater landslide.
A huge impact into water – like a large landslide or meteor – can also cause tsunamis.
When an earthquake happens, huge tectonic plates crunch together.
When the “snap” eventually happens, this gives a large shove to water.
This creates a tsunami that travels very quickly across the open oceans.
As the ocean becomes shallower, the tsunami wave is forced upwards.
This means tsunami waves typically grow very quickly in height (and slow down) as they approach the shallow shorelines near land.
Tsunamis are typically a series of waves, rather than one single wave
As they approach land, these waves get closer together.
One of the best ways to spot an incoming tsunami is a sudden retreat of coastal water.
If the tide goes out very quickly, it’s a telling sign that something is wrong.
What you’re actually seeing is the trough of the incoming tsunami wave – on a huge scale.
The initial tsunami impact can be deadly.
But tsunami flooding also drowns people, damages buildings, destroys infrastructure and spreads waste and disease.
However, the UK could still be at risk from flooding events from potential volcanic eruptions, 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,” he said.
“These models give us a unique window into the past to see how the country was, and could be affected again.”
Used sedimentology and dating tsunami sediment deposits at Maryton, Aberdeenshire, using luminescence, researchers were able to determine the age, number and relative power of the tsunami waves.
They were triggered by underwater landslides on the coastal slopes at Storegga, along Norway’s continental shelf in the Norwegian sea.
Commenting on the study, Professor Dave Tappin, of the British Geological Survey, said: “Thirty years ago, identifying the Storegga tsunami flooding was seminal in recognising that submarine landslides are a major hazard in triggering significant flood events.
“From the Montrose area, the new detailed analysis provides important new insights into the understanding of the Storegga tsunami flood.
“The research highlights the importance of applying new scientific techniques to older-studied events, thereby improving our knowledge of their impact.”
The research is published in the journal Boreas.
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