QRA 2015 Annual Discussion Meeting: The Quaternary Geology of the North Sea and Adjacent Areas

Our Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh

05/01/15 - 08/01/15

Emrys Phillips

The North Sea has had a long and complex geological history with its present-day structural configuration largely being the result of rifting during the Jurassic-Early Cretaceous, followed by thermal cooling and subsidence. Since the middle Cenozoic, up to 3000 m of Oligocene to Holocene...

The North Sea has had a long and complex geological history with its present-day structural configuration largely being the result of rifting during the Jurassic-Early Cretaceous, followed by thermal cooling and subsidence. Since the middle Cenozoic, up to 3000 m of Oligocene to Holocene sediment have accumulated in the central graben region of the North Sea, locally including more than 800 m of Quaternary sediments. Preserved within this sedimentary record is the evidence for several ice sheets having advanced into the North Sea at different stages during the Quaternary, contributing to the periodic erosion and infill of this sedimentary basin.

The traditional view of the Pleistocene glacial history of the North Sea suggests that the region has encountered three major glacial episodes during the past 500 ka, referred to as the Elsterian Stage (oldest, Marine Isotope Stage [MIS] 12), Saalian Stage (MIS 10-6), and Weichselian Stage (youngest, MIS 5d-2) glaciations. The main criterion for this threefold subdivision are the discrete sets of tunnel valleys preserved offshore, which delimit the broad extents and submarginal drainage systems developed beneath these ice sheets during each phase of glaciation. However, in recent years, this simple three-stage model has come under considerable scrutiny and there is now growing body of evidence that there may have been many more glacial episodes. The increasing geomorphological evidence for ice sheets having extended across the northwest European continental shelves, means that it is becoming increasingly apparent that the sedimentary record within the North Sea basin is likely to contain the key evidence for the existence of these former Pleistocene ice sheets and intervening interglacials.

The North Sea basin is known to have been an important pathway for large-scale glacial transport to the deeper Atlantic Ocean, as shown by the presence of large glacial debris fans along the northwest European continental margin. These fans were fed by ice streams, comparable with those that drain the majority of ice from modern-day Greenland and Antarctica, and these were probably a key feature of the North Sea ice sheets. As a result, the North Sea basin is also likely to be an important site for understanding the discharge and stability of the major northern European palaeo-ice masses, including the British and Fennoscandian ice sheets.

The Edinburgh 2015 QRA annual discussion meeting aims to bring together scientists working in the North Sea and surrounding areas. It will provide an ideal forum in which to exchange views and information, and discuss new ideas regarding the Quaternary evolution of the North Sea basin on a variety of time scales, its glacial and interglacial successions, its archaeological record of human occupation, and the recent advances in the mapping of marine habitats and their conservation.

Further information including registration details will be available here in due course.

Proposed sessions

(1) Quaternary geology of the North Sea - general session; (2) Tunnel valleys and subglacial to ice-margin drainage systems; (3) Ice sheet limits and dynamics within the North Sea region; (4) Pleistocene stratigraphy and  palaeoenvironments; (5) Quaternary geology of the onshore areas surrounding the North Sea; (6) Post-glacial to Holocene evolution and sedimentation within the North Sea basin; (7) Archaeology and human occupation; (8) Mapping of marine habitats and marine conservation; (9) Off-shore and coastal geohazards and resources; (10) Poster session (open).

Post-conference workshops (Friday 9th January 2015)

These will be held at the British Geological Survey's offices in Edinburgh

(1) Micromorphology and analysis of glacigenic sediments (led by Dr Emrys Phillips and Dr Simon Carr); (2) 3D seismic geomorphology (led by Dr Mads Huuse and Dr Margaret Stewart); (3) Analysis and interpretation of surface multibeam data (led by Dr Carol Cotterill and TBC); (4) Logging and analysis of marine core (TBC)

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