Coach House Geography

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The power of water!

Posted by Lindy on July 22, 2009

The Durham Grand Canyon: Flooding after heavy rain carves vast trench in farm land

By Neil Sears

Read more:
Durham picOn Friday night, it was a perfectly ordinary, perfectly flat, cornfield.

By Saturday morning, it was riven in two by a vast trench up to 30m across, 5m deep and 200 metres long.

The enormous gully  –  so big that locals have called it ‘the Grand Canyon of Durham’  –  is believed to have been formed in a matter of minutes when millions of gallons of floodwater from surrounding farmland suddenly tore through the soil towards the River Wear.

Simultaneously, the high waters of the Wear had broken the banks at exactly the same point  –  and in an instant, a new tributary to the river was formed. Luckily, no buildings were near enough to be affected.

Durham mapNow the floodwater has drained away and the river has returned to its normal level, an almost empty canyon remains, with just a trickle of water at the bottom.

It is an extraordinary illustration of the power of nature  –  and shows that enough water, flowing with enough force, doesn’t need decades to carve a path through the earth.

In fact, it is estimated that the water carried into the river up to 12,000 cubic metres of soil, weighing 15,000 tons, the volume of 25 swimming pools.

Durham experienced 80mm of rain in 24 hours, ten times the average, helping to create the new feature in a field belonging to Houghall agricultural college in the village of Shincliffe.

Pete Whitfield, from the college, discovered the canyon on Saturday morning when he rushed to work to sort out the flooding problems, which were so bad several pigs were drowned.

He was early enough on the scene to see the water thundering into it from the field.

‘I heard this rushing like Niagara Falls,’ he said. ‘And I could see this water wearing away the land. The field was perfectly flat 25 acres before. Now there’s only about 18 acres left.

‘It’s an amazing phenomenon, but I estimate it’s the result of water from up to 120 acres of flooded land.’


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