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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.

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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.


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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.

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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.

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Correspondence to Ross A. Hartley.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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

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