Structural and stratigraphic basin modelling has been used to examine quantitatively the Cretaceous and Tertiary post-rift subsidence history of the northern North Sea Basin following Late Jurassic extension. 2D forward and reverse, syn-rift and post-rift modelling has been used to determine the magnitude and timing of departures from the McKenzie post-rift thermal subsidence trend for regional stratigraphic profiles in the Outer Moray Firth, the South Viking Graben and the North Viking Graben. Observed stratigraphy has been reverse post-rift modelled using flexural backstripping combined with decompaction and reverse thermal subsidence calculations, and forward modelled through the syn-rift and post-rift period using the flexural cantilever model of continental rift basin formation. Long-term global eustasy has been included in the analysis. Only reliable palaeobathymetric markers, such as erosion surfaces and coals, have been used to constrain subsidence history.
Both forward and reverse 2D modelling show that a Palaeocene regional uplift followed by a rapid Eocene subsidence must be superimposed on McKenzie post-rift Cretaceous and Tertiary basement subsidence in order to generate the stratigraphy observed. The magnitude of Palaeocene uplift deduced from modelling was of the order of 375 m in the Outer Moray Firth (central North Sea) increasing to 525 m in the North Viking Graben (northern North Sea). Rapid Early Eocene subsidence was of the order of 160–310 m. The most likely mechanism for regional Palaeocene uplift and rapid Eocene subsidence in the northern North Sea was the Palaeocene development of the Iceland plume situated at a distance of 700–900 km from the study area in the Early Tertiary. Forward and reverse modelling predict axial bathymetries in the graben of up to 1300 m for the Early Cretaceous and 900 m for the Upper Cretaceous. The large palaeobathymetries at the end of the Cretaceous provided much of the accommodation space for Tertiary sedimentation.