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Nature. 2007 Jul 19;448(7151):342-5.

Catastrophic flooding origin of shelf valley systems in the English Channel.

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  • 1Department of Earth Science and Engineering, Imperial College London, London SW7 2AZ, UK.


Megaflood events involving sudden discharges of exceptionally large volumes of water are rare, but can significantly affect landscape evolution, continental-scale drainage patterns and climate change. It has been proposed that a significant flood event eroded a network of large ancient valleys on the floor of the English Channel-the narrow seaway between England and France. This hypothesis has remained untested through lack of direct evidence, and alternative non-catastrophist ideas have been entertained for valley formation. Here we analyse a new regional bathymetric map of part of the English Channel derived from high-resolution sonar data, which shows the morphology of the valley in unprecedented detail. We observe a large bedrock-floored valley that contains a distinct assemblage of landforms, including streamlined islands and longitudinal erosional grooves, which are indicative of large-scale subaerial erosion by high-magnitude water discharges. Our observations support the megaflood model, in which breaching of a rock dam at the Dover Strait instigated catastrophic drainage of a large pro-glacial lake in the southern North Sea basin. We suggest that megaflooding provides an explanation for the permanent isolation of Britain from mainland Europe during interglacial high-sea-level stands, and consequently for patterns of early human colonisation of Britain together with the large-scale reorganization of palaeodrainage in northwest Europe.

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