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North Sea Palaeolandscape | Arts and Humanities E-Science Support Centre

Figure 1: The extent of the 3D Seismic data currently employed in the project

Start Date: Oct 2005

End Date: Mar 2007

About the Project

The British continental shelf contains one of the most detailed and comprehensive records of the Late Quaternary and Holocene landscapes in Europe. This landscape is unique in that it was extensively populated by humans but was rapidly inundated during the Mesolithic as a consequence of rising sea levels as a result of rapid climate change. Previous researchers have recognised the rapid inundation may have preserved topographic features and caches of environmental data of high quality which may be used to provide insights into Holocene landscapes which, if located and sampled, may be unparalleled by terrestrial sites. Knowledge of the development of this landscape is also critical to our understanding of the impact of climate change on palaeobathymetry and shoreline sequences. It is clear that the exploitation of the Southern North Sea for energy and mineral resources, most notably aggregate extraction, remains a strategic goal for the UK and without adequate data this remarkable landscape is under significant threat from development. Furthermore, given that this landscape suffered changes comparable with those predicted for the British shoreline over the next century, the value in providing comparative data for the future impact of global warming seem clear.

The use of 3D seismic data provides an efficient way of generating a regional model for the Late Quaternary and Holocene and an excellent framework for the further integration of shallow borehole, environmental and shallow (high resolution) geophysical data for the purposes of geological and archaeological interpretation. The data can also be used, in conjunction with proxy ecological and archaeological data, to identify deposits with high preservation potential for use in the development of wider mitigation strategies. Palaeo-mapping of the Southern North Sea provides a unique opportunity to provide detailed deposit mapping which can be used in mitigation procedures to explore the impact of aggregate extraction over very large areas and by Aggregate groups to design alternative extraction strategies which minimise destruction to areas with high preservation potential and continue to permit responsible mineral extraction and development.

Figure 2. A Model of the Holocene Marine Seaway to the South of Doggerbank

Current results from research carried out at Birmingham suggest that this methodology significantly enhances results produced using comparative technologies traditionally used to investigate shallow stratigraphic sequences. Whilst the data provided will be extensive, rather than high resolution, the information will provide the UK with a significant international advantage in the development of mineral exploitation strategies that are profitable, sustainable and environmentally friendly and place the united Kingdom in a lead international position in respect to the cultural assessment of marine environments.

Specifically, the aims of the North Sea Project are:

  • To introduce aggregate companies to the potential of extensive 3D seismic technologies as a source of data for management of the marine resource
  • To promote the use of data to map the environmental and archaeological potential of the Southern North Sea for developmental purposes
  • To provide a detailed map of the topographic features of the region and to use voxel rendering to allow the true 3D architecture of Late Quaternary and Holocene systems to be established.
  • To integrate the Holocene topographic data with sample core and borehole data to ground truth data and calibrate results
  • To provide a model of survival potential for environmental and archaeological deposits within the area of the Southern North Sea which can be used by the aggregate industry and curatorial groups for management purposes

Project URL

University of Birmingham project site

Funding Sources

Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund (administered by English Heritage)

Source Material Used

The North Sea Palaeolandscapes Project utilises a variety of geophysical data sources, in conjunction with more traditional map data to provide information for the output of this project. The primary Geophysical data set consists of the 3D seismic 'Mega-Survey' as compiled by PGS (www.PGS.com). This is industry standard 3D data acquired using the towed streamers and a variety of seismic sources (primarily airgun). This geophysical dataset is complemented by a suite of High Resolution 2D Seismic lines acquired using boomer and airgun sources. To complement the geophysical data, bathymetric data has been acquired from the BGS, along with a variety of Geological Mapping for the area in traditional forms.
3D Seismic data provided by Petroleum Geo-Services
2D Seismic data provided by the British Geological Survey

Resource Created

Please describe the outcome(s) of the project The project aims to create a variety of resources that can be utilised by both the archaeological community, in the form of academic research & heritage management activities, as well as the extractive industries (such as aggregates, Oil & Gas, Fishing) as planning tool. To achieve this goal an ArcIMS Website (Internet Map) will be created to allow varying degrees of access to the project data dependant on user requirements & data security. The ArcIMS site will allow the free access to the interpretation as well as associated mapping. Researchers and organisations requiring more detailed access will be allowed access through a secure portal. Further to this digital and traditional paper maps detailing the likely positions of archaeological resources, their vulnerability and accessibility will be created for use by archaeologists, the interested public, local and national government as well as industry. As a primary academic output, the project has secured a entire issue of the publication "Archaeological Prospection" to illustrate and promote the work and techniques developed by the project to the archaeological community as a whole. Other project outputs will include:

  • Final report
  • Adobe pdf format versions of the reports available for download from the project website.
  • GIS Data Archive for deposition with the ADS
  • Pan European Access Grid Conference

Figure 3. A Virtual Recreation of the area shown in Figure 2 (Image Courtesy of Eugene Ch'ng)

Data Formats Created

Landmark Ascii
Landmark Well Format
Erdas Imagine IMG
JpegEsri Shapefile
Esri Grid
Amira Mesh
Amira LDA
Amira Surface file
Ascii Text file

Publications resulting from project

Ch'ng, E., Stone, R. J. and Arvantis, T. N. 2004. The Shotton River and Mesolithic Dwellings: Recreating the Past from Geo-Seismic Data Sources. The 5th International Symposium on Virtual Reality, Archaeology and Cultural Heritage, VAST (2004), in cooperation with ACM SIGRAPH and The Eurographics Association, 7-10 December, Brussels, Belgium, pp. 125-133, 2004.
Fitch, S., Thomson, K. and Gaffney, V. 2005. Late Pleistocene and Holocene depositional systems and the palaeogeography of the Dogger Bank, North Sea. Quaternary Research. 64, 185-196.
Dedicated volume of Archaeological prospection (In Prep.)

UK HE organisations involved

University of Birmingham
Southampton University

Other Institutions involved

Petroleum Geo-Services
English Heritage
Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund

Principal staff member

Prof. Vince Gaffney
Dr Ken Thomson
Mr Simon Fitch

Other staff members

Dr Simon Holford
Ms Kate Briggs
Dr Andy Howard
Dr David Smith
Dr Ben Gearey

External Expertise

Management Committee
Andrew Bellamy, BMAPA
Ingrid Ward, English Heritage
Virginia Dellino Musgrave, English Heritage
Justin Dix, Southampton
Huw Edwards, PGS
Nic Flemming, Southampton
Paul Hatton, Information Services Birmingham
Chris Loader, PGS
Valerie Scadeng, Mercury
Paul O'Neil, Tigress
Ron Yorston, Tigress

Subject Domains

Archaeology, GeoArchaeology, Environmental Archaeology, Marine Archaeology, Oceanography, Environmental Science, Quaternary Sciences, Sea level Research, Physical Geography, Geology, Computer/ Electrical Engineering, Palaeontology, Palynology, Geophysics, Sedimentology.

Figure 4. A solid model of one of the Palaeochannels being investigated in 3D through the use of VR technology

Tools Used in Project

Tigress 5.0.1 (x86_64 version)
RSI Rocksolid Attributes 3.0
Seisee 2.5
OpendTect 2.2.3
Mercury Amira 4.1 (x86_64 version) inc. VLD package
SMT Kingdom 7.6
ArcGIS 9.0
Arcview 3.3
Erdas Imagine 8.7
Rivex 3.7
Adobe Illustrator CS2
Exceed 11.0
Google Earth

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