Meteotsunami: The AD 1607 Bristol Channel Flood

Josephine A Westlake


The cause of the 1607 Bristol Channel coastal flooding, despite it resulting in over 2,000 fatalities, remains controversial, with both storm surge and tsunami (wave) mechanisms proposed. Contemporary written accounts were examined critically in the context of a possible meteorological (weather) rather than geological (submarine landslide or earthquake) tsunami trigger. Evidence supporting both theories; storm surge and tsunami, is based primarily on historical accounts, however strong limitations have been found in the sourcing and interpretation of these documents. A geological tsunami is considered unlikely due to the lack of a realistic trigger mechanism while coastal topography (landscape) and climatology were found to be supportive of a meteotsunami (atmospheric pressure) source. Flooding from this mechanism is therefore proposed as a possible alternative to the surge and, if correct, demonstrates the potential for a similar mechanism to cause future dangerous flood events, both in the South West and around the British Isles.


geography; history; flood; 17th century; tsunami; meteotsunami; storm surge

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Prof. David Tappin of University College London and the British Geological Survey and Dr. Harvey Rodda of Hydro-GIS for their supervision throughout the project.


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