Revisiting the Submerged Paleo Elbe Valley (S North Sea) with High-Resolution Shallow Seismics

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Svenja Papenmeier and H. Christian Hass, Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz-Wadden Sea Station Sylt, List, Germany
The Elbe paleo valley is the most prominent subsurface structure in the southern North Sea (~10,000 km²) and constitutes an important part of Germany’s largest marine Natura 2000-Reserve “Sylter Außenriff” (European environmental protection area). It is supposed that the valley was formed by epeirogenic movement during the Tertiary. The depression developed to its present form during the Weichselian sea-level lowstand (‑130 m below present). Melt waters that discharged in north-westerly directions fed the paleo Elbe at that time. During the Holocene the valley drowned in the rising sea. A narrow raster of new shallow seismic data combined with high resolution sidescan sonar data is used to shed new light on the Holocene development of the paleo Elbe valley and its adjacent regions in detail. Cross sections distributed with transect distances of 400 and 800 m, respectively, over a length of 100 km (approximately one third of the total valley length) enable a good comprehensive analysis of the historical process of sedimentary valley infill and coastal evolution with the successive Holocene sea level rise.

The eastern flank of the valley is characterized by a relatively steep slope with one or more terraces, representing moraine deposits which are today still present at the seafloor surface, partly covered with Holocene marine deposits. The western slip-off slope of the valley is much smoother than the eastern undercut slope. West of the valley, sediment cores show peat and tidal flat sediments. Shallow seismic data show the base of the valley. There are conspicuous internal seismic reflectors above the base, inclined in northeastern direction. They indicate a sedimentary infill of the valley from the southwest when the southern part of the Dogger Bank was flooded during the early Holocene sea-level rise. In this process the steeper eastern slope acted as a natural barrier towards the northeast, averted sediment transport beyond the eastern boundary of the paleo Elbe valley and represents the coastline of the former North Sea.