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Major UK quake 'long overdue'

A killer earthquake could hit London at any time, claiming untold numbers of lives and causing billions of pounds worth of damage, an expert has warned.

Such a quake is long overdue after the last one occurred on April 6 1580, said seismologist Dr Roger Musson.

Centred on the Dover Straits, the magnitude 5.5 tremor shook the south-east of England, damaging property and killing two people in London.

A similar “moderate” event would now be far more destructive, with towns and cities connected by complex infrastructure and a London population 50 times what it was in the 16th century.

The reason we should be aware of the danger is that earthquakes have a habit of repeating themselves, said Musson, from the British Geological Survey.

Speaking at the British Science Festival at Aston University, Birmingham, he said: “The quake in 1580 was a repeat of a previous one that occurred in 1382, with almost the same epicentre, size and results.”

An idea of the kind of financial impact of such an event could be seen from a tremor that struck the city of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia, in 1999.

“The damage caused by that earthquake, which was smaller than the 1580 earthquake, amounted to about £4bn at today’s prices,” said Musson.

He said Britain sat in the middle of one of the tectonic plates that divide up the Earth’s crust.

The country is being squeezed between an expanding plate boundary slicing through the Atlantic and another running through north Africa.




Readers' comments (2)

  • Does the term "long overdue" imply approximately equal time intervals between events? With such a paucity of data - two events - how would we know if this is true, and which of the three (two historical quakes and one future quake) are early or late? The conclusion may be true, and backed by other data from different tectonic milieux, but this simplistic presentation does not pass muster.

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  • Wikipedia has good coverage of UK earthquakes including a 5.2 in Market Rasen, Lincolnshire in 2008. No deaths, one injury and some significant, but not disastrous property damage. There is a chronological list of recorded UK earthquakes. A comparison with recent UK events would perhaps be more valid. It's probably a good thing to be in the middle of a tectonic plate compared to being at an active plate boundary.

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