This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/)

Abstract

The onset of the Quaternary (2.58 Ma) corresponds to significant paleo-environmental events, such as the intensification and southward extension of Northern Hemisphere glaciation. In the North Sea Basin a significant late Cenozoic succession has been identified as a high-resolution archive of paleo-environmental changes during the Pliocene and Pleistocene. However, the identification of the base of the Quaternary has been a long-standing issue owing to lack of stratigraphic calibration. This study incorporates continuous, regional 3D seismic data with high-quality chronostratigraphic markers to map the base-Quaternary surface at high resolution across the entire North Sea. Depth conversion, backstripping, seismic geomorphology and sedimentation rate calculations are integrated to analyse the paleogeographical evolution of the North Sea Basin and its infill of c. 83 × 103 km3 of northward prograding marine to deltaic sediments. The basin is 600 km long from SSE to NNW and largely localized above residual topography of the Mesozoic graben system. During the earliest Quaternary (2.58 – 2.35 Ma) paleo-water depths were c. 300 ± 50 m and solid sedimentation rates (calculated from 0% porosity) c. 32 km3 ka−1. The base-Quaternary provides an important marker for further studies of the changing environment of the Quaternary of NW Europe as well as resource and shallow geohazard analysis.

Supplementary material: A base Quaternary two-way travel time structure map is available at https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.3900343