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First harmonised classification of submerged landscape features and palaeoenvironmental indicators for pan-European maritime countries

Sea level is known to have fluctuated by more than 100 metres over repeated glacial cycles resulting in recurring exposure, inundation and migration of coastlines not only across Europe, but worldwide. Landscape response to these changes in sea level, and the preservation of these features on continental shelves around Europe, are an invaluable resource for improving our understanding of human history and environmental change over geological time.

The EMODnet Geology Team responsible for the work package on Submerged Landscapes, led by the British Geological Survey with project partners from Russia to Iceland, Turkey to Portugal and all European maritime countries, has delivered a compilation of submerged landscape features and palaeoenvironmental indicators, including estimated age where known. The fully attributed Geographic Information System (GIS) layer will be used to underpin palaeogeographic reconstructions across various time-frames. “This is the first time information on the character and evolution of submerged landscape features have been collated and harmonised across European Seas”, said David Tappin, coordinator of the work package.

The work package aimed to compile and harmonise available information on submerged landscape features by integrating existing records of palaeoenvironmental indicators with interpretations of geomorphology, stratigraphy and types of sediment. “Submerged landscape features have been mapped previously on many European shelf areas, but never before has a harmonised GIS been attempted”, David Tappin added.

More than 10,000 features representing 26 classes of submerged landscape and palaeoenvironmental indicators ranging from mapped and modelled palaeocoastlines, evidence for submerged forests and peats, thickness of post-Last Glacial Maximum sediments and submerged freshwater springs have been collated and delivered on the EMODnet Geology portal for the first time.

Building on the work of other projects such as the COST Action SPLASHCOS project, the EU FP-7 project SASMAP and the MEDFLOOD project, this work package aims at meeting the recommendations of the European Marine Board SUBLAND group. Recent advances in both data acquisition and availability over the last two decades has enabled researchers to more accurately reconstruct the extent and dynamics of fluctuating palaeocoastlines. High-resolution bathymetry and sub-bottom seismic data in particular have resulted in a step-change in our understanding of palaeoshorelines and other traces of the original landscape topography and sediments. With preservation of these now submerged features under threat from commercial activities and natural erosion, bringing together existing knowledge through delivery of this work package is timely.

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