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Devon village is rising 2cm a year, and scientists have no idea why

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 13/04/2018 By Sarah Knapton, Science Editor

Devon village © Getty Devon village  It is arguably the most upwardly-mobile village in Britain.

But the small parish of Willand in Devon is not enjoying an unexpected economic boom, but rather a strange geological upsurge.

Scientists have discovered the village is rising by 0.7 inches (2cm) a year, and are utterly baffled about the reason.

The Coastal Village Of Clovelly In Devon, England, © Getty The Coastal Village Of Clovelly In Devon, England, The curious elevation was spotted by researchers from the University of Nottingham's spin-off company Geomatic Ventures Limited (GML) who have been compiling satellite images between 2015 and 2017 to create the first country-wide map of land motion in Britain.

“We generally see this sort of uplift where there has been mining works and the pumps have been switched off, allowing the water to gradually seep back into the ground,” said Dr Andy Sowter, Chief Technical Officer at GVL .

“But I contacted the British Geological Society to ask if there was any history of mining in the area and there is none. Willand is in the middle of nowhere, and there were no mines, so we have no idea what is going on.

“For people living in the village it would be imperceptible and there is unlikely to be any structural damage, but it is concerning that there is a high speed railway line running in the area and the M5.

a close up of a map © Provided by The Telegraph “If you’re running a railway over that you may notice you have to maintain a bit of rail a little more if the ground is rising.”

The rising area, which is elliptical in shape,  measures around 1.2 miles (2km) wide and has been detected by several satellites.

Experts say the fact that both fields and urban areas are rising together suggests that the answer ‘lies deep underground,' and are concerned that it could be the result of a large environmental discharge, or huge leak.

“It’s fairly sizable, the whole town is moving here,” added Dr Sowter. “I think the authorities definitely need to go down there and investigate what is going on.

Devon Village of Woolsery © Getty Devon Village of Woolsery “If it is down to liquid seeping underground, or some sort of discharge of waste then that could be a threat to the environment.

“If this is not a natural occurrence then it is symptomatic of something happening underground so it’s important to find our what that is.”

The new map was created using a technique called satellite interferometry, which overlays repeat radar pictures of the same location over time, so that tiny changes in land height can be seen.

The images were taken by the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-1 satellite mission which orbits 500 miles above Earth.

It offers the most detailed look ever at the UK’s shifting topography and highlights areas of hazards due to coal mining, soil compaction, landslides, coastal erosion, landfill subsidence and tunnelling for the London Underground.

a satellite in space © Provided by The Telegraph As well as the village movement, the map also unveiled a subsidence bowl more than 500 yards wide at Kennington Park, just east of The Oval in London. The Team believes it was due to the sinking of a shaft for the Northern Line extension in November 2017.

Britain’s coal mining heritage is also evidence, with large regions of ‘rebound’ where underground workings have flooded after closure, as well as subsidence where shafts have collapsed.

Examples can be seen extensively over former coalfields such as Leigh, Greater Manchester; North Nottinghamshire; South Yorkshire; Stoke-on-Trent; and Midlothian.

Dr Stephen Grebby, Assistant Professor in Earth Observation, at Nottingham University said, “With the new map we are able to better understand how the entire UK landscape is being affected by various natural and anthropogenic processes.

“Whilst providing us with detailed information to study the individual mechanisms of these processes, the technique also offers a means of identifying and mitigating any potential risk that these may also pose to infrastructure, society and the environment.”

The team hope the map will be useful for policymakers and a wide range of industries, including onshore oil and gas, civil engineering, insurance, mining and carbon trading.

Dr John Kupiec, Innovation Manager at the Environment Agency added: “The Environment Agency and other government and public sector organisations will be able to make use of the rich information for a variety of applications in monitoring both the natural and built environments for the benefit of people and to promote sustainable development.”

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