Scientists in the U.K. are baffled over why a small southern town is “moving” skyward.
The landscape beneath the 6,000-person town of Willand in Devon is currently seeing the fastest upward movement across the U.K., according to reports. Although the progress isn’t noticeable to the people who live there, scientists say that 1.2 mile-wide stretch of the town is rising by two centimeters each year.
“We’ve spoken to the Environment Agency and the British Geological Survey, and right now we can’t explain it,” Geomatic Ventures Limited chief technical officer Andy Sowter told BBC News. “We don’t know why it’s going up.”
GVP researchers along with scientists from Nottingham University discovered the phenomenon after creating the country’s first-ever motion map. They looked at more than 2,000 images captured by satellites between 2015 and 2017 and, along with a technique called Intermittent Small Baseline Subset, pieced together the map that now details the Northern European country’s moving landscape.
Some areas with a history of coal mining showed evidence of surface rebounding – a natural occurrence where the Earth swells above an old mine site after the ground below it has suffered repeated flooding and subsequent draining.
But the specific case of Willand is puzzling local scientists since the area doesn’t have a coal mine or similar industrial past to explain what’s happening to the land.
“I contacted the British Geological Society to ask if there was any history of mining in the area and there is none,” Sowter told The Telegraph. “Willand is in the middle of nowhere, and there were no mines, so we have no idea what is going on.”
The only theory currently floating around town is that an underground aquifer – or body of saturated rock that water easily flows through – deep below the surface exists and is filling up, forcing the ground above it up.
The rising isn’t expected to cause any harm or damage to the local residents or buildings but, like the actual cause of these events, that assumption can’t be made certain.
“If it is down to liquid seeping underground, or some sort of discharge of waste, then that could be a threat to the environment,” Sowter told The Telegraph. “If this is not a natural occurrence then it is symptomatic of something happening underground, so it’s important to find out what that is.”