Climate change and geohazards

Knipe Point

This project is working to improve our understanding of the climatic controls on geohazards. It aims to use observed data and predicted climate change scenarios to determine the consequences of climate change on geohazard type and distribution in Great Britain. Whilst it is understood that some geological hazards are related to climate, particularly rainfall, the complexity of this relationship is not yet understood in detail and the interactions are not always those expected.

News coverage suggests an increased frequency of extreme weather events, which can have impacts such as flooding and coastal erosion. Some of these have been closely followed by related geohazards, such as landslides; this may indicate that the type of hazard, and the frequency with which they occur, are starting to evolve with changes in climate. There are also questions about longer-term changes that may influence observed relationships with hazards such as shrink/swell subsidence.

Collaborative work

Shrink swell map

We are looking to collaborate with other organisations. Based on the information above, if you have climate or geohazard dataset(s) or information that could be combined with BGS data to gain a better understanding of their complex relationship, please email Anna Harrison (see below).

The project plan

As climate continues to change, an increased understanding of vulnerability to climate affected geohazards will be vital in providing the scientific evidence base for informed planning and decision making for the future.

The project aims to:

  • Produce an initial scoping report to summarise the current state of scientific knowledge of climate change and the effects on geohazards
  • Use observed climatic data and geohazard information to build a more detailed understanding of their relationship
  • Use this knowledge to produce GIS (Geographical Information System) layer(s), similar to those in the BGS GeoSure dataset (currently utilising the BGS GeoSure Shrink swell potential dataset 335 KB pdf)
  • Use these GIS layers to determine what the possible consequences of climate scenarios could be for geohazard potential in Great Britain.

Recent Research

New research into shrink swell and climate change has linked extended periods of low rainfall to high levels of shrink-swell subsidence claims on the clay soils of the South East of the UK. The study shows that two years with low average rainfall can put the soils system into an ‘overdraft’ situation, and even if a large amount of rainfall is experienced, we could still be in the red. It has also demonstrated the importance of temperature on shrinking and swelling clays, with warmer summer temperatures related to larger peaks in shrink-swell and subsidence insurance claims.

Recent publications

HARRISON, A M, PLIM, J F M, HARRISON, M, JONES, L D, and CULSHAW, M G. 2012. The relationship between shrink–swell occurrence and climate in south-east England. Proceedings of the Geologists' Association, Vol. 123, 556-575.

Climate change is one of the biggest environmental problems that the UK faces. Increased understanding of the impacts is vital to enable adaption to, and mitigation of, the consequences. This analysis and modelling of the relationship between climate and shrink–swell behaviour has been carried out to increase understanding of the potential consequences of changes in precipitation and temperature on ground movement in the south-east of England during the coming century.


Contact Anna Harrison for more information.