Warning system needed for threat of catastrophe

Britain should help to set up an international early warning system for mega-disasters, such as giant volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tidal waves, Britain's geologists have told the Government.

Britain should help to set up an international early warning system for mega-disasters, such as giant volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tidal waves, Britain's geologists have told the Government.

Such events could severely threaten the British Isles and pose a much greater risk than that of asteroid impacts, which the Government has recently evaluated, according to the Geological Society.

In a letter to the Science minister, Lord Sainsbury of Turv-ille, Professor Chris Wilson, the society's honorary secretary for external affairs, said a taskforce similar to that which recently reported on the threat from Near Earth Asteroids should be set up to look at a broad band of terrestrial disasters. He went on: "Governments have taken the threat of global warming seriously, but the inevitability of global natural hazards has yet to be recognised as a problem by the international community.

"The recognition by the UK Government that meteorite impacts are more than science fantasy is encouraging. We suggest the UK go even further and take the lead in influencing the development of global natural disaster preparation plans."

The letter is timed to coincide with a BBC2 Horizon programme tonight on the threat of giant 'tsunamis' or tidal waves originating from the collapse of unstable volcanic islands in the Atlantic. Scientists have only recently realised that a huge part of one of the Canary Islands is likely to collapse.

If it did so, a wall of water nearly 2,000ft high would be sent westwards at the speed of a jet plane. By the time it reached the United States it would still be 150ft high, enough to devastate the entire Eastern seaboard. It is thought that such a wave would also drastically affect the coast of Europe and possibly Britain.

Professor Bill McGuire, of the Benfield Greig Hazard Research Centre at University College London, said a section of La Palma in the Canaries the size of the Isle of Wight had slipped down four metres in 1949 and eventually was certain to fall into the sea.

He said: "In the long term it is a hundred per cent certain. We need an Atlantic tsunami warning system - like the one in the Pacific - and the Government should contribute to getting it started."

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