Drilling in the submerged land below the North Sea

Published: 16 June 2017

At the beginning of the Holocene age, about 12,000 years ago, the sea level was sixty metres lower than at present and the North Sea was largely dry. Just 4,000 years later, the sea rose by approximately fifty metres, and an open river landscape was transformed into what is now the North Sea.

Pelagia ship at Texel, photographe HeinS5

These days, the story of how exactly the land under the North Sea was submerged is buried below water and sand. Not only is that story geologically and archaeologically important, it also contains lessons for us about sea-level rise in the future. Marc Hijma, a Deltares researcher specialising in sea-level change, will be going on board the Pelagia, the NIOZ research vessel, on 15 June. Marc will be accompanied by Chris Mesdag (Deltares), Freek Busschers (TNO-DGN) and Natasha Barlow (Leeds University), as well as a number of researchers from NIOZ (the Netherlands Institute for Marine Research).

Innovative research worldwide

They will be conducting innovative research worldwide by collecting core samples from clay and peat layers at different depths. In that way, they will be able to analyse the history of how the land was submerged. This is innovative research because there is virtually no high-quality information available for this period (the early Holocene). As a result, the expedition will also result in new publications, charts and models of the North Sea. An enthusiastic Marc explains: ‘The fact that we can now sail with the NIOZ is a fantastic opportunity. Otherwise, this study would have been much more expensive and, in effect, impossible in the short term.’

As well as being represented by Hyma and Mesdag, Deltares will also be supplying the seismic equipment (in other words, the chirp and sparker) for this expedition to identify layers of interest.

Hijma will be writing a blog about the work on NIOZ@Sea.