The infill of tunnel valleys in the central North Sea: Implications for sedimentary processes, geohazards, and ice-sheet dynamics

Tunnel valleys are widespread in formerly glaciated regions such as the North Sea and record sediment transport beneath ice sheets undergoing deglaciation. However, their complex infill architecture often makes their implications for ice-sheet processes difficult to unravel. Here, we use high resolution 3D (HR3D) seismic data, improved-resolution conventional 3D seismic-reflection data, and geotechnical information from industry-acquired boreholes to image the infill architecture of buried Quaternary tunnel valleys in the North Sea in unprecedented detail. Ten cross-cutting generations of tunnel valleys are mapped beneath the seafloor of the North Sea where only seven were visible previously. Each generation of tunnel valleys potentially reflects a different glaciation, although our evidence may imply that it is possible to rapidly erode and infill multiple generations of tunnel valleys within a single glacial cycle. The infill of the oldest tunnel valley generations reflects sedimentation during relatively gradual ice-sheet retreat, with occasional episodes of overriding by re-advancing grounded ice. Tunnel valleys formed in more recent glaciations are characterised by more variable sedimentation patterns that reflect dynamic fluctuations of the ice margin, including readvances and stagnation, during valley filling and ice retreat. Numerous subglacial landforms are also imaged within the tunnel valleys; these sometimes contain shallow gas accumulations that represent geohazards for seafloor installations. In addition, we document examples where salt diapirism has caused fluids to migrate upwards from depth through faults and into the near-surface tunnel valleys. In instances where this occurs, the relatively porous and often highly continuous subglacial landforms present within their infill may allow these fluids to spread laterally for kilometres or even escape from the seafloor; it is therefore important to consider tunnel valleys when monitoring possible CO2 leakage from carbon capture and storage efforts.


Publication status:
Authors: Kirkham, James D. ORCIDORCID record for James D. Kirkham, Hogan, Kelly A. ORCIDORCID record for Kelly A. Hogan, Larter, Robert D. ORCIDORCID record for Robert D. Larter, Self, Ed, Games, Ken, Huuse, Mads, Stewart, Margaret A., Ottesen, Dag, Le Heron, Daniel P., Lawrence, Alex, Kane, Ian, Arnold, Neil S., Dowdeswell, Julian A.

On this site: James Kirkham, Kelly Hogan, Robert Larter
1 January, 2024
Marine Geology / 467
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