Tertiary sediments are of restricted occurrence in the onshore British Isles but occur extensively offshore, attaining thicknesses of ~4 km in the Faroe–Shetland Basin and ~3 km in the North Sea Basin. Clay mineral stratigraphic studies of the North Sea Paleocene to Lower Miocene successions show a dominance of smectite (and smectite-rich illite-smectite) with minor illite, kaolin and chlorite. Abundant smectite in the Paleocene and Eocene reflects alteration of volcanic ash derived from pyroclastic activity associated with the opening of the North Atlantic between Greenland and Europe. However, the persistence of high smectite into the Oligocene and Middle Miocene indicates that smectite-rich soils on adjacent land areas may also have been an important source of detrital clays. An upwards change to illite-dominated assemblages in the Middle Miocene reflects higher rates of erosion and detrital clay supply, with a subsequent increase in chlorite reflecting climatic cooling. The persistence of smectite-rich assemblages to depths of >3000 m in the offshore indicates little burial-related diagenesis within the mudstone succession, possibly as a consequence of over-pressuring. Despite the importance of Paleocene and Eocene sandstones as hydrocarbon reservoirs in the North Sea and Faroe-Shetland basins, there are few published details of the authigenic clays. The principal clay cements in these sandstones are kaolin and chlorite, with only minor illite reported.
The offshore successions provide a valuable background to the interpretation of the more intensively studied, but stratigraphically less complete, onshore Tertiary successions. The most extensive onshore successions occur in the London and Hampshire basins where sediments of Paleocene to earliest Oligocene age are preserved. Here clay assemblages are dominated by illite and smectite with subordinate kaolin and chlorite. The relatively large smectite content of these successions is also attributed primarily to the alteration of volcanic ash. Associated non-smectitic clays are largely detrital in origin and sourced from areas to the west, with reworking of laterites and ‘china clay’ deposits developed over Cornish granites. Authigenic clays include glauconite (sensu lato), early diagenetic kaolin that has replaced muscovite (principally in the London Clay Formation of the London Basin) and smectite that has replaced ash. Pedogenesis has extensively modified the assemblages in the Reading Formation and Solent Group. Tertiary sediments are largely missing from onshore northern and western Britain, but clays and sands of Eocene and Oligocene age are locally preserved in small fault-bounded basins. Here, clay assemblages are dominated by kaolin with minor illite.