From the North Sea Lowlands to the Celtic Shelf Edge: Reconstructing interconnected environments for the past 500 kyrs

18 Nov 2019 - 20 Nov 2019


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Fifty years ago, in 1969, Erno Oele and Cees Laban finalized a Quaternary geological map depicting the northern half of the Dutch North Sea. By combining seismic data and descriptions of about eighty vibrocores with analyses of palynomorphs, they were able to capture half a million years of geological history, from the Elsterian glaciation to the present.

We have come a long way since then. Quaternary geological maps of the North Sea, English Channel and Celtic Sea summarize decades of intense marine surveying, laboratory work and drawing, and provide the context for research on topics ranging from ice-sheet configuration in the North Sea basin to terrigenous fluxes at the Celtic Margin. We have been able to answer some fundamental questions about the impact of growing and shrinking ice sheets on continental-scale drainage systems, the role of climate change in triggering extreme events, the defining influence of paleolandscapes on human migration and well-being, and commonalities between continental sedimentary and marine isotope records. Still, many challenges remain and important follow-up questions have arisen that can only be answered with new information and knowledge.

Various interdisciplinary groups are currently intensifying their research on the shallow subsurface of the North Sea, English Channel and southern Celtic Sea, triggered in part by the availability of new seismic surveys and boreholes made to support large-scale offshore windfarm development. Aligning this work and planning joint expeditions is crucial to unravel a unique record of glacial and interglacial sediments and landforms on a scale covering entire drainage systems, marine basins, and past landscapes home to Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic Man. It will help identify causes and effects of rapid environmental change, and shed light on the way early humans used the available natural resources.


The conference in Utrecht aims at exchanging and connecting knowledge on Middle-Pleistocene to Late-Holocene geological processes and landscape development from the North Sea to the Celtic Margin, searching for direct and indirect indicators of human presence and colonization of presently submerged landscapes, exploring opportunities to profit from vast volumes of new subsurface data collected in support of the energy transition, and discussing potential topics and possible funding mechanisms for research linking late-Quaternary subsurface records from north to south. We intend to facilitate networking through an interactive program that includes keynotes, flash presentations, dedicated poster walks, and participatory discussion sessions.

Themes (plenary sessions and posters)

1. glacial/interglacial subsurface record (invited speaker: prof. dr. Phil Gibbard, University of Cambridge)
  a. glaciotectonics, ice-sheet configuration and drainage directions
  b. fluvial channel fills and scour holes
  c. lake sediments and drainage events
  d. deltaic and marine sediments
2. climate and environmental reconstructions (invited speaker: dr. Natasha Barlow, University of Leeds)
  a. climate records
  b. interglacial sea-level records
  c. neotectonics and isostasy
  d. MIS 5 cooling and sea-level fall
3. drowned landscapes, their occupants and what they left behind (invited speaker: dr. Luc Amkreutz, Dutch National Museum of Antiquities and Leiden University)
  a. reconstruction of incompletely preserved landscapes
  b. linking landscapes to vegetation
  c. human and other faunal occupation
  d. effects of rapidly migrating coastlines
4. transnational seabed mapping and subsurface modeling (invited speaker: prof. dr. Vera Van Lancker, Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences and Ghent University)
  a. glacial, fluvial and marine geomorphology
  b. seabed sediment as environmental indicator
  c. use cases of the European Marine Observation and Data network EMODnet
  d. use cases of national programs, data repositories and legacy datasets
5. equipment and methodology (invited speaker: Dr. Samuel Toucanne, Ifremer)
  a. developments in geophysical surveying
  b. developments in coring and core scanning
  c. developments in DNA analysis, geochemistry and dating methods
  d. developments in data modeling and visualization

Organising Committee

dr. Sytze van Heteren and Ina Vissinga-Schalkwijk (TNO – Geological Survey of the Netherlands)
dr. Tine Missiaen (Flanders Marine Institute, Belgium)
prof. dr. Marc De Batist (Renard Centre of Marine Geology, Ghent University, Belgium)
prof. dr. Vincent Gaffney (University of Bradford)
prof. dr. Gert-Jan Reichart (Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research and Faculty of Geosciences, Utrecht University)

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