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Disasters: is the UK immune?

Tornadoes, earthquakes and tsunamis - with a spate of disasters occurring worldwide this year, this month's issue of Focus magazine looks at the science of predicting the next disaster. But it would seem that the UK has been left out of this global trend. Why is the UK seemingly so immune to these devastating events?

Earthquakes

The recent 6.3 magnitude earthquake in New Zealand killed 181 people, but the total death toll from all earthquakes on record in the UK is a modest 11.

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The UK lies on the Eurasian plate, thousands of miles away from the closest plate boundary (the Mid-Atlantic Ridge) where earthquakes originate.

Britain does actually experience 200-300 earthquakes every year, but most of these are so small that we can’t feel them. About 20 are large enough to be felt, and could potentially cause damage to sensitive structures such as dams.

Volcanoes

The UK is home to several supervolcanoes which have had violent eruptions, but thankfully these were millions of years ago and are long since extinct. There are now no active volcanoes in the UK, and we are located far from any active areas. Due to our global culture, volcanoes in other countries can have a serious impact on us, such as the recent Icelandic eruption of Grimsvotn volcano, and the Eyjafjallajokull eruption in 2010 which grounded UK flights for six days.

Hurricanes

Our chilly weather does us a favour for once on this one. Hurricanes require tropical waters and warm weather to form. Our brisk Atlantic seas and cool climate mean that it’s not possible for a hurricane to form near us. We do however occasionally feel the effects of the end of other countries’ hurricanes. With global warming causing the sea to heat up, we can expect more and more serious storms to hit our coastlines.

Asteroids

This is one disaster that doesn’t show any preference about where in the world it strikes. NASA keeps a very close eye on all potentially dangerous space objects that could be on a collision course with Earth.

The next serious asteroid to strike Earth could have devastating consequences for the UK. To find out more about this event, check out the July edition of Focus for our cover feature on the science of predicting disasters.

By Ruth Norris


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