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The timing of Cenozoic surface uplift in NW Europe relies on the assumption that the sedimentary response in basins is synchronous with tectonic processes in the source areas. However, many of the phenomena commonly used to infer recent uplift may as well be a consequence of climate change and sea-level fall. The timing of surface uplift therefore remains unconstrained from the sedimentary record alone, and it becomes necessary to consider the constraints imposed by physically and geologically plausible tectonic mechanisms, which have a causal relation to an initiating agent. The gradual reversal of the regional stress field following the break-up produced minor perturbations to the thermal subsidence on the Norwegian Shelf and in the North Sea. Pulses of increased compression cannot be the cause of Cenozoic land surface uplift and accelerated Neogene basin subsidence.Virtually deformation-free regional vertical movements could have been caused by changes in the density column of the lithosphere and asthenosphere following the emplacement of the Iceland plume. A transient uplift component was produced as the plume displaced denser asthenosphere at the base of the lithosphere. This component decayed as the plume material cooled. Permanent uplift as a result of igneous underplating occurred in areas of a thin lithosphere (some Palaeozoic and Mesozoic basins) or for lithosphere under extension at the time of plume emplacement (the ocean-continent boundary). In areas of a thicker lithosphere (East Greenland, Scotland and Norway) plume emplacement may have triggered a Rayleigh-Taylor instability, causing partial lithospheric delamination and associated transient surface uplift at a decreasing rate throughout Cenozoic time. A possible uplift history for the adjacent land areas hence reads: initial transient surface uplift around the break-up time at 53 Ma caused by plume emplacement, and permanent tectonic uplift caused by lithospheric delamination and associated lithospheric heating. The permanent tectonic uplift increased through Cenozoic time at a decreasing rate. Denudation acted on this evolving topography and reduced the average surface elevation, but significantly increased the elevation of the summit envelope. The marked variations in the sedimentary response in the basins were caused by climatic variations and the generally falling eustatic level. This scenario bridges the gap between the ideas of Paleocene-Eocene uplift versus repeated Cenozoic tectonic activity: the tectonic uplift history was initiated by the emplacement of the Iceland plume, but continued throughout Cenozoic time as a consequence of early plume emplacement, with climatic and eustatic control on denudation. The mechanism is consistent with topography, heat flow, crustal structure, and the Bouguer gravity of Norway, and may be applicable also to East Greenland.

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