The story

I wrote a post about the New Zealand earthquake at the beginning of this month and whilst it was terrifying to those involved at least the people of New Zealand are prepared for earthquakes and realise that they could happen at any time.

Now reflect on Britain.  Do we imagine that an earthquake could strike us and cause damage, maybe even deaths?  It’s not something that we worry about in this country even though hundreds of small earthquakes happen here every year.  Now a leading seismologist – Dr Roger Musson has stated that we should be prepared as a damaging earthquake could strike Britain at any time.

In his article on the British Geological Survey website (link below) he goes on to explain that the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti was a surprise to the people living there.  Even though the country is next to a major fault-line the last serious quake was in 1770, way beyond living memory.

Britain stands on smaller fault-lines that release the tension that builds up when Europe’s tectonic plate is pushed by the African plate.  This means that large earthquakes like the Haiti and New Zealand ones are not a possibility.  However, we have experienced some significant quakes in the past.  In 1580 a quake of magnitude 5.5 hit London and a similar one also in 1382.  These both caused considerable damage and 10 people were killed in the 1580 quake.

To prepare for what may lie ahead it is important that people are aware of the past and to this end geologists have been gathering together data on the most significant damaging earthquakes in Europe from 1000 to 1963.  The initial result is the AHEAD database which contains a map showing the locations of all the quakes together with information about the epicentre and magnitude.

Teaching idea

The AHEAD database is useful in showing students who are studying plate tectonics the locations of quakes in Europe.  You can highlight the two London quakes and then go on to discuss why Britain is at risk of quakes but why they are never major ones like those experienced in Haiti or New Zealand.

The excellent post on the Volcanism blog was my inspiration for this one.  It exposes the media hype which came about from Dr Musson’s article.  Newspapers ranging from The Sun to The Guardian reported that London was ‘overdue’ for a major earthquake which will kill hundreds.  As explained in the blog, you cannot predict when an earthquake will strike only that it will at some time.  This is a great opportunity to explore with students another example of media hype and why they should always analyse what they read.

Teaching resource

I have created a UK earthquake PowerPoint which can be used as a starter or plenary to a lesson on earthquakes.   The students are shown a map with the tectonic plates and the location of New Zealand and Haiti.  They could be asked what the significance of these two countries are before being asked if a major earthquake could happen in the UK.

They are then shown a map which contains the fault-lines in the UK and told that minor earthquakes happen but could a larger one?  The students could then read one of the articles from the newspapers and then are shown the last slide.  Here they discuss in groups the merits of four statements from the papers.  Some give good sound information – others not so.  Can they see how the media have over-hyped this story?  Why would they do that?  They could also compare these articles with one that actually reports the facts from the BBC.

Weblinks

The post from The Volcanism Blog

Dr Musson’s article

The AHEAD database

Map showing earthquakes in Britain in the last 30 days

Article from The Daily Mail

From The Guardian

From The Mirror

Example of an article that keeps to the facts

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