Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Letter
  • Published:

Transient convective uplift of an ancient buried landscape


Sedimentary basins in the North Atlantic Ocean preserve a record of intermittent uplift during Cenozoic times1. These variations in elevation are thought to result from temperature changes within the underlying Icelandic mantle plume2. When parts of the European continental shelf were episodically lifted above sea level, new landscapes were carved by erosion, but these landscapes then subsided and were buried beneath marine sediments3. Here, we use three-dimensional seismic data to reconstruct one of these ancient landscapes that formed off the northwest coast of Europe during the Palaeocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum. We identify a drainage network within the landscape and, by modelling the profiles of individual rivers within this network, we reconstruct the history of surface uplift. We show that the landscape was lifted above sea level in a series of three discrete steps of 200–400 m each. After about 1 million years of subaerial exposure, this landscape was reburied. We use the magnitude and duration of uplift to constrain the temperature and velocity of a mantle-plume anomaly that drove landscape formation. We conclude that pulses of hot, chemically depleted, mantle material spread out radially beneath the lithospheric plate at velocities of 35 cm yr−1.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: Icelandic plume.
Figure 2: Seismic imaging of buried landscape.
Figure 3: Topographic map of buried landscape.
Figure 4: Uplift histories.
Figure 5: Model of transient vertical motion.

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Jones, S. M. & White, N. Shape and size of the starting Iceland plume swell. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 216, 271–282 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Shaw Champion, M. E., White, N. J., Jones, S. M. & Lovell, J. P. B. Quantifying transient mantle convective uplift: An example from the Faroe–Shetland basin. Tectonics 27, TC1002 (2008).

    Google Scholar 

  3. Smallwood, J. R. & Gill, C. E. The rise and fall of the Faroe–Shetland Basin: Evidence from seismic mapping of the Balder Formation. J. Geol. Soc. Lond. 159, 627–630 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Bijwaard, H. & Spakman, W. Tomographic evidence for a narrow whole mantle plume below Iceland. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 166, 121–126 (1999).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Ritsema, J., Deuss, A., van Heijst, H. J. & Woodhouse, J. H. S40RTS: A degree-40 shear-velocity model for the mantle from new Rayleigh wave dispersion, teleseismic traveltime and normal-mode splitting function measurements. Geophys. J. Int. 184, 1223–1236 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. White, R. & McKenzie, D. Magmatism at rift zones: The generation of volcanic continental margins and flood basalts. J. Geophys. Res. 94, 7685–7729 (1989).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Poore, H. R., White, N. & Jones, S. A Neogene chronology of Iceland plume activity from V-shaped ridges. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 283, 1–13 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Mudge, D. C. & Jones, S. M. Palaeocene uplift and subsidence events in the Scotland–Shetland and North Sea region and their relationship to the Iceland Plume. J. Geol. Soc. Lond. 161, 381–386 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Mudge, D. C. & Bujak, J. P. Biostratigraphic evidence for evolving palaeoenvironments in the Lower Paleogene of the Faroe–Shetland Basin. Mar. Petrol. Geol. 18, 577–590 (2001).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Miller, K. G. et al. The Phanerozoic record of global sea-level change. Science 310, 1293–1298 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Tarboton, D. G., Bras, R. L. & Rodriguez-Iturbe, I. On the extraction of channel networks from digital elevation data. Hydrol. Process. 5, 81–100 (1991).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Pritchard, D., Roberts, G. G., White, N. J. & Richardson, C. N. Uplift histories from river profiles. Geophys. Res. Lett. 36, L24301 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Roberts, G. G. & White, N. Estimating uplift rate histories from river profiles using African examples. J. Geophys. Res. 115, B02406 (2010).

    Google Scholar 

  14. Howard, A. D. & Kerby, G. Channel changes in badlands. Geol. Soc. Am. Bull. 94, 739–752 (1983).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Yair, A., Goldberg, P. & Brimer, B. Long term denudation rates in the Zin-Havrim badlands, northern Negev, Israel. Badland Geomorphol. Piping 279–291 (1982).

  16. Dadson, S. J. et al. Links between erosion, runoff variability and seismicity in the Taiwan orogen. Nature 426, 648–651 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Nadin, P. A., Kusnir, N. J. & Cheadle, M. J. Early Tertiary plume uplift of the North Sea and Faeroe–Shetland Basins. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 148, 109–127 (1997).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Underhill, J. R. Controls on the genesis and prospectivity of Paleogene palaeogeomorphic traps, East Shetland Platform, UK North Sea. Mar. Petrol. Geol. 18, 259–281 (2001).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Rudge, J. F., Shaw Champion, M. E., White, N., McKenzie, D. & Lovell, B. A plume model of transient diachronous uplift at the Earth’s surface. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 267, 146–160 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Ito, G. Reykjanes ‘V’-shaped ridges originating from a pulsing and dehydrating mantle plume. Nature 411, 81–684 (2001).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Hauri, E. H., Whitehead, J. A. & Hart, S. R. Fluid dynamic and geochemical aspects of entrainment in mantle plumes. J. Geophys. Res. 99, 24275–24300 (1994).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Schubert, G., Olson, P., Anderson, C. & Goldman, P. Solitary waves in mantle plumes. J. Geophys. Res. 94, 9523–9532 (1989).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Srivastava, S. P. & Tapscott, C. R. Plate kinematics of the North Atlantic. Geol. North Am. 379–404 (1986).

  24. Lawver, L. A. & Müller, R. D. Iceland hotspot track. Geology 22, 311–314 (1994).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Delorey, A. A., Dunn, R. A. & Gaherty, J. B. Surface wave tomography of the upper mantle beneath the Reykjanes Ridge with implications for ridge–hot spot interaction. J. Geophys. Res. 112, B08313 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


This research is funded by the BP–Cambridge margins project. We are grateful to R. Corfield, I. Frame, B. Lovell, D. Lyness, L. Mackay and J. Rudge for their help. M. Gurnis and R. Westaway provided reviews. Figures were prepared using the GMT, InkScape and ArcGIS software packages. Department of Earth Sciences Contribution Number esc.2064.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



This project was planned by N.W. Seismic mapping and drainage analysis was carried out by R.A.H. and G.G.R. Convective modelling was carried out by R.A.H. and C.R. The paper was written by N.W. and R.A.H. and the figures were drafted by G.G.R. and R.A.H.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ross A. Hartley.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Information (PDF 144 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Hartley, R., Roberts, G., White, N. et al. Transient convective uplift of an ancient buried landscape. Nature Geosci 4, 562–565 (2011).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing