Abstract

Recently obtained high-resolution seismic records, collected offshore the western Netherlands in a kilometer-size grid across the lower shoreface and inner shelf, suggest the presence of a dense, previously unknown network of tidal-channel fills in the shallow subsurface of the North Sea. Seven channel fills constituting this network were analyzed in detail to infer relationships among the fills in time and space, and to identify factors governing channel development and tidal-basin evolution. The majority of the channels are oriented perpendicular to the coast, but parts of some have a strong coast-parallel component. Shell associations and sedimentological characteristics in most channel fills are typical of back-barrier depositional environments. All but one of the channel fills are part of an Atlantic-age tidal-channel system, draining a tidal basin protected by barrier islands. One channel fill, which is correlated to an incision recognized onshore, represents a younger phase in coastal development. The presumed barrier-island chain was positioned at least 12 km seaward of the present coastline in the northern part of the study area, and at least 6 km seaward of the present coastline in the southern part. The tidal channels grew and migrated actively before partially being filled in between 7300 14C yr BP and 5500 14C yr BP, reflecting an initial tidal-prism increase followed by a substantial decrease. The tidal-prism increase was governed by an upsurge of the tidal amplitude between 8000 14C yr BP and 7000 14C yr BP, and the subsequent decrease by a gradual decrease in the rate of sea-level rise. Rapid retrogradation of the coastline put a sudden end to the existence of the tidal basin. The ensuing shoreface erosion removed all but the deepest parts of the channel fills, which do not show any evidence of systematic landward migration. This field observation corroborates recent modeling results suggesting that rapidly rising sea level may create the conditions necessary for overstepping of sandy barriers.

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