Wednesday 22 November 2017

UK at risk of asteroid tsunami 'that could kill hundreds of thousands'

This artist’s impression highlights the potentially devastating effect of an asteroid
This artist’s impression highlights the potentially devastating effect of an asteroid

Sarah Knapton in London

PARTS of the UK are at risk from an asteroid tsunami that could kill hundreds of thousands of people living in coastal regions, scientists have warned.

Experts at the University of Southampton have developed software that predicts the impact of "corridors" of known asteroids and calculates the risk to communities if they struck.

Although the UK is not directly under an asteroid path, it is at risk from impacts in the Atlantic Ocean and North Sea that could trigger devastating tsunamis. For example, there is a one in 10,000 chance that a space rock could hit just off the coast of Norfolk within the next 85 years.

PhD student Clemens Rumpf who developed the software - called Armor - is hoping it will help organisations like the United Nations decide whether to evacuate communities or send spacecraft to intercept deadly objects.

"We have discovered around 13,000 asteroids and around 500 of them have a chance of hitting Earth," he said.

"We can now calculate where they could impact and the damage that would be caused so that we could get evacuation plans in order.

"When an asteroid strikes one of the biggest problems is a tsunami. Britain is an island with lots of coastline, and lots of people living there so it is a risk."

The new maps show a wide asteroid risk zone running through Europe, passing directly over Scandinavia, Germany, France and Spain.

The US is largely unaffected, although Florida and Louisiana could be hit. South Australia is particularly at risk.

The asteroid impact probability distribution was also combined with the Earth population map to produce the global asteroid impact risk distribution, which shows that south-east Britain is one of the most at-risk areas of the world.

Dr Hugh Lewis, senior lecturer in Aerospace Engineering, at the University of Southampton, said: "It's very easy to be flippant because of the Hollywood effect but it is a real risk.

"When you look at global vulnerability, Britain is at very high risk. You might think that is odd because we are a very small country but we have a high population density on the coastline so that means we are vulnerable to an impact in the Atlantic Ocean.

"Small asteroids are hitting the Earth all the time, and even if we don't (get) anything large, we are still likely to have tens of thousands of people dying in the next 85 years."

Irish Independent

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