Using Historic Tide Gauge Data to Study Tsunami

After the tsunami of 26 December 2004 off the west coast of northern Sumatra, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) commissioned a report examining the possibility of a tsunami affecting the UK. The report looked at historical events to highlight future seismic sources and the impact they might have.

Working with the British Geological Survey and the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory (now the National Oceanography Centre, Liverpool), BODC compiled a catalogue of historic tide gauge charts corresponding to dates of possible tsunami.

Some of the charts in our archive show evidence of tsunami reaching the south west coast of the UK. However, the effect was small and only increased the local sea level by ~20cm.

The tide gauge at Newlyn, Cornwall shows a tsunami occurred on 25th November 1941

The tide gauge at Newlyn, Cornwall shows a tsunami occurred on 25th November 1941 following an earthquake west of Portugal, magnitude 8.2 Ms. The tsunami consisted of seven waves with a maximum amplitude of about 20cm and lasted about four hours (from LONG, D AND WILSON, CK. 2007. A catalogue of tsunamis in the UK. British Geological Survey Commissioned Report, CR/07/077. 29pp.).

Read the final report to Defra (PDF opens in new window).

We hope that by making our historic sea level data available online, it will be easier for the data to be used in future studies. At the moment, access to physical records is limited and time consuming. By digitising charts and scanning ledgers, we aim to improve the service we provide.

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