Researchers hunt for flooded ancient landscapes in Irish Sea

Researchers hunt for flooded ancient landscapes in Irish Sea

A team of researchers has begun searching for "the lost landscapes" of the Irish Sea that were flooded as the sea level rose in ancient times. The team, from the Irish Marine Institute and IT Sligo, has joined with a University of Bradford "Lost Frontiers" programme to explore the extensive submerged landscapes between Ireland and Britain.

There is already evidence of the rising sea levels which occurred at the end of the last glacial period. A 6,000-year-old forest is visible off the County Dublin Coast between Killiney and Bray, according to the Irish Times. These ancient trees were first noted about 100 years ago and were seen again in 1999, but a storm in 2001 left tree stumps and fallen timber extensively revealed near the coast north of Bray.

It is thought that beneath the waves of the Irish Sea there lies a palaeolandscape of plains, hills, marshlands and river valleys, which might preserve evidence of early human activity. This landscape is not unlike Doggerland in the southern North Sea, where the best-known palaeolandscape of Europe has been revealed.

The RV Celtic Voyager
The RV Celtic Voyager. Image © Marine Institute.

An Irish ship called the RV Celtic Voyager will take sediment samples from 20 sites in Liverpool and Cardigan Bays. This work began last Wednesday and continues through this weekend.

Dr James Bonsall from the Centre for Environmental Research Innovation and Sustainability at IT Sligo told the Irish Times that the crew was using cutting-edge technology to attempt to retrieve the first evidence for life within the landscapes that were flooded by the rising sea thousands of years ago.

"This is the first time that this range of techniques has been employed on submerged landscapes under the Irish Sea," he said.

Irish Sea coast
The Irish Sea coast at the mouth of the River Boyne, viewed from a drone.

Although now separate islands, Ireland and Britain were past of one larger landmass 18,000 years ago. But globally, sea levels rose by around 120 metres and an area more than twice the size of the United States was lost beneath the sea.

Professor Vince Gaffney, principal investigator with Europe's Lost Frontiers Project, said the submerged lands between the two countries could hold crucial information about the first settlers of Ireland and adjacent lands along the Atlantic corridor.

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