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A review is given of palaeoclimatic and palaeoenvironmental evidence across Europe for the Weichselian period relevant to interpreting the emplacement and circulation of groundwaters. In addition, this provides the background against which the evidence of past climates and environments contained in groundwaters in coastal areas of Europe, from the Baltic to the Atlantic Ocean may be compared. For much of the Weichselian, although significantly colder than at present, conditions were favourable for the recharge of groundwater, as shown, for example, by periods of speleothem growth. During the last glacial maximum (LGM) recharge is likely to have ceased over much of permafrost-covered Europe, although shallow groundwater recharge from meltwater (generated by the geothermal gradients) could have taken place beneath the ice where pressure relief through tunnel valleys may have occurred. Modem recharge could have started as early as 13 14C ka bp, but probably interrupted by the Younger Dryas between 11 and 10 14C ka bp. In the Baltic areas, ice-dammed lakes inhibited the start of the modem hydrogeological regimes until c. 10.3 14C ka bp. Tundra conditions prevailed over most of ice-free southern Europe at the time of the LGM. At this time the area south of the Portuguese–Spanish border retained a generally warm and relatively humid climate due to the maintenance of warmer sea-surface temperatures derived from Atlantic Ocean circulation. For most of coastal Europe, however, the most significant impact on groundwater circulation is likely to have been the lowering of sea levels that drained large areas of the shelf, such as the North Sea and the English Channel, and also had a significant impact on the Atlantic coast of the Iberian Peninsula where the maximum lowering of up to 130 m would have been experienced. This, together with the general changes in climate, would also have reorganized the atmospheric chemistry over sites in Europe that is likely to be recorded in the groundwater’s chemical and isotopic signatures.

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