Modelling western North Sea palaeogeographies and tidal changes during the Holocene

I. Shennan*, K. Lambeck, R. Flather, B. Horton, J. McArthur, J. Innes, J. Lloyd, M. Rutherford, R. Wingfield

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    141 Citations (Scopus)


    Analysis of cores collected from Late Devensian (Weichselian) and Holocene sediments on the floor of the North Sea provides evidence of the transgression of freshwater environments during relative sea-level rise. Although many cores show truncated sequences, examples from the Dogger Bank, Well Bank and 5 km offshore of north Norfolk reveal transitional sequences and reliable indicators of past shoreline positions. Together with radiocarbon-dated sea-level index points collected from the Holocene sediments of the estuaries and coastal lowlands of eastern England these data enable the development and testing of models of the palaeogeographies of coastlines in the western North Sea and models of tidal range changes through the Holocene epoch. Geophysical models that incorporate ice-sheet reconstructions, earth rheology, eustasy, and glacio- and hydro-isostasy provide predictions of sea-level relative to the present for the last 10 ka at 1-ka intervals. These predictions, added to a model of present-day bathymetry, produce palaeogeographic reconstructions for each time period. The palaeogeographic maps reveal the transgression of the North Sea continental shelf. Key stages include a western embayment off northeast England as early as 10 ka BP; the evolution of a large tidal embayment between eastern England and the Dogger Bank before 9 ka BP with connection to the English Channel prior to 8 ka BP; and Dogger Bank as an island at high tide by 7.5 ka BP and totally submerged by 6 ka BP. Analysis of core data shows that coastal and saltmarsh environments could adapt to rapid rates of sea-level rise and coastline retreat. After 6 ka BP the major changes in palaeogeography occurred inland of the present coast of eastern England. The palaeogeographic models provide the coastline positions and bathymetries for modelling tidal ranges at each 1-ka interval. A nested hierarchy of models, from the scale of the northeast Atlantic to the east coast of England, uses 26 tidal harmonics to reconstruct tidal regimes. Predictions consistently show tidal ranges smaller than present in the early Holocene, with only minor changes since 6 ka BP. Recalibration of previously available sea-level index points using the model results rather than present tidal-range parameters increases the difference between observations and predictions of relative sea-levels from the glacio-hydro-isostatic models and reinforces the need to search for better ice-sheet reconstructions.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)299-319
    Number of pages21
    JournalGeological Society Special Publication
    Publication statusPublished - 2000


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