What lies be­neath

Country Life Every Week - - Town & Country -

NEW study has found that ex­am­in­ing the lay­ers of sed­i­ment be­neath Cum­brian lakes could help us to be more pre­pared for fu­ture flood­ing. Cur­rently, we rely on pre­cip­i­ta­tion and river-flow records to gauge flood risk. How­ever, our rain­fall data only goes back a cou­ple of hun­dred years or so in a hand­ful of lo­ca­tions, with mea­sure­ments of river flows go­ing back only decades.

This in­ves­ti­ga­tion, funded by UK Nat­u­ral En­vi­ron­ment Re­search Coun­cil’s Ur­gency Pro­gramme and car­ried out by a team from Liver­pool, Southamp­ton, Durham and King’s Col­lege Lon­don uni­ver­si­ties, tells a story of the area’s flood his­tory dat­ing back as far as 1400 and beyond, cap­tur­ing a far fuller range of pos­si­bil­i­ties in flood fre­quency and mag­ni­tude.

For­tu­nately, the Lake Dis­trict’s his­tory of metal min­ing has left its mark at the bot­tom of the four lakes in­volved—but­ter­mere, Bassen­th­waite, Ull­swa­ter (above) and Brother­swa­ter—with traces

Aof cop­per, lead, zinc and even barytes act­ing as use­ful mark­ers, re­flect­ing the pe­ri­ods when par­tic­u­lar in­dus­tries were dom­i­nant and thus show­ing ex­actly how of­ten floods have oc­curred. In Bassen­th­waite, for ex­am­ple, two-thirds of the big­gest floods in the 600-year sed­i­ment record have oc­curred in the past 20 years.

This in­for­ma­tion could be all the more vi­tal, as the Na­tional Flood Re­silience Re­view—pub­lished this month—which an­tic­i­pates 20%–30% more ex­treme down­pours than be­fore, calls for greater use of ‘in­for­ma­tion from his­toric sources (for ex­am­ple, news­pa­per re­ports, pho­tographs, and sed­i­ments)’.

The Gov­ern­ment has com­mit­ted £12.5 mil­lion to in­crease and im­prove tem­po­rary flood de­fences and Bob Ward of the Gran­tham Re­search In­sti­tute on Cli­mate Change says that it ‘de­serves credit for ad­mit­ting that Min­is­ters have pre­vi­ously mis­un­der­stood and sig­nif­i­cantly un­der­es­ti­mated the prob­a­bil­ity of flood­ing’.

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