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4th Meeting Ulster, Belfast (Northern Ireland) 2007 – Conference Report


4th Meeting Ulster, Belfast (Northern Ireland) 2007 – Conference Report

UK Sea Level IGCP / INQUA Conference

International Conference and Field Trip on:

Holocene Land-Ocean Interactions: Driving Mechanisms and Coastal Responses

Northern Ireland

22nd – 25th June, 2008

A conference and field meeting to Northern Ireland, organised jointly by the UK working group of IGCP Project 495 and the INQUA Commission on Coastal and Marine Processes with financial support from Environment and Heritage Service, Department of the Environment, Northern Ireland.

Group photo on Murlough Beach

Conference Report

Thanks are given to the Environment and Heritage Service, Department of the Environment, Northern Ireland for their support in hosting this meeting. The event was organised by Professors Andrew Cooper, Julian Orford, Marshall McCabe, Dr Derek Jackson, Dr Peter Wilson and graduate students from the School of Environmental Sciences of the University of Ulster.

The conference commenced on the evening of Thursday 22nd June with a keynote presentation by Professor Joseph Kelley who kindly joined us all the way from the University of Maine (USA). In his talk Joe drew interesting and insightful parallels between the relative sea-level histories of Maine and Northern Ireland.

A series of presentations were given on Monday 23rd June commencing with an interesting, yet somewhat controversial (!), presentation by Robin Edwards who compared field sea-level data from Ireland with output from geophysical models that simulate relative sea-level change. The debate between Robin’s group and Marshall McCabe is now in press in the Journal of Quaternary Science (Edwards et al. 2008; McCabe 2008). Chair Andrew Cooper next called on Julian Orford, who presented an extension to the UK isobase model of ice thickness to cover Northern Ireland and justified the importance of gaining accurate isostatic rebound rates for future sea-level rise predictions and the calculation of stresses that storm events will place on many coasts. Sarah Bradley then provided us with an insight into her work on the use of sites in China as far-field locations to produce a revised eustatic sea-level model for the mid to late Holocene.

After a quick coffee break, Roland Gehrels emphasised the importance of obtaining new SLIPs (sea-level index points) for the late Holocene. These are used by the UK Climate Impact Programme in future sea-level rise scenarios. This was followed by a presentation by Aija Delina who detailed her current study looking at seawater intrusion into groundwater aquifers in Liepaja Town, Latvia. Wil Marshall was next to take the floor with an interesting talk regarding the use of stable lead isotopes (arising from metal working events) to date salt-marsh sediments, a method which will help to bridge the current gap between the dating tools of 210Pb and 14C. We then heard about the current situation of coastal erosion along the Belgian coastline from Cecile Baeteman. Rounding off the morning session, Henk Weerts spoke to us about a period of rapid delta formation following a storm surge, and subsequent dyke failure, during the 15th Century along the River Rhine.

Delegates look out over the Magilligan Foreland

Delegates look out over the Magilligan Foreland

After a huge and delicious three-course lunch (and a glass or two of wine), we returned for session three, chaired by our keynote speaker Joseph Kelley. First up was Derek Jackson whose talk focussed on historical changes along the coast of south-east Ulster, as detailed by map and aerial photograph evidence. Alice Kelley then spoke to us regarding the enigma of a shell midden in Peru located some distance from the coast, which has been inferred to have formed during the seasonal occupation of the site while water (sourced from glaciers) was available. Andrew Cooper ended the session with an interesting talk about extreme wave events on Caribbean beaches.

The final session was chaired by Derek Jackson and commenced with a presentation by Antony Long who explored the evidence for a smaller-than-present Greenland ice sheet during the Holocene thermal maximum, although he stressed that research is ongoing due to various contradictory evidence. Paul Dunlop then spoke to us on the use of the INSS (Irish National Seabed Survey) and INFOMAR (Integrated Mapping For the Sustainable Development of Ireland’s Marine Resource) data to determine the extent of glaciation as evidenced from the seabed off the Northern Irish coast, concluding that the ice flow was probably sourced in Scotland. The final presentation was given by Barbara Mauz who talked of ice-proximal sandars and their use in dating the retreat of the MIS 2 ice sheet.

A number of interesting and eye-catching posters were displayed following the completion of the talks. These covered a broad variety of topics from far and wide, ranging from investigations of palaeoshores in Northern Ireland to marine deposits in North-West Russia, and from storm-surge deposits in Holland to beach types in the British Virgin Islands.

The next morning saw us rise early for the first day of the field excursions but after another filling breakfast, we were ready and prepared for the day ahead. There was just one problem – there was no coach to take us to the field sites! Luckily, this wasn’t much of a hindrance as the fleet of enthusiastic postgraduate students at Ulster saved the day by acting as our chauffeurs, for which all those in attendance were most grateful – especially as they had to keep up with speed demon Professor Marshall McCabe!

The agenda of the day was to visit key points around the coast of County Down to view evidence of deglacial relative sea levels and Holocene coastal evolution, as well as historical coastal changes.

The first stop on the itinerary was Rough Island in Strangford Lough, an erosional remnant of the late glacial marine terrace. Exposed cliff sections provided us with an opportunity to examine facies consisting of glacial till, reworked glacial sands and the overlying post-glacial raised beach.

Delegates on the Magilligan Foreland

Next on the agenda was Killard Point where Marshall negotiated with the landowner who kindly allowed us access through his cow-field. This site has been described as a zone of terminal outwash and presented us with debris flows and moraines which it was suggested were deposited during a period of high relative sea level, reaching up to 20 metres water depth.

Pushing on, we stopped for lunch at Murlough National Nature Reserve. Owned by the National Trust, the reserve consists of a boardwalk through ancient dunes. Stopping momentarily on the beach, we grabbed the opportunity to take the obligatory group photo with the Mourne Mountains as our backdrop.

In the afternoon we visited the glacigenic deposits of Kilkeel Steps. Here we saw how troughs had truncated the deposits and how they had infilled following a marine transgression. The deposits had then been overlain by a late glacial raised beach deposit. Finally, we made a quick stop at a quarry in order to see the back of the Kilkeel channels.

The day’s outing certainly provided a baseline for some interesting discussions and debate. The conference dinner took place that evening in the beautiful chambers of the Belfast Harbour Commissioners Office.

The final day of field excursions saw us visit the Magilligan Foreland in the far north of Northern Ireland where Peter Wilson provided us with an insight into the Holocene evolution of the area and historical shoreline change. The mid Holocene relative sea-level highstand at this location is the highest in Ireland, and the subsequent fall to present sea level has produced an extensive and impressive landscape of beach ridges. Despite the long drive, it was agreed by all that the hour and a half journey was worth it. Even the unpleasant weather was unsuccessful in dampening the enthusiasm of most!

Marshall McCabe discusses debris flows at Killard Point

The organisers are congratulated for organising such an interesting meeting and fieldtrip. The next joint meeting of the INQUA Commission on Coastal and Marine Processes and the UK Working Group of IGCP Project 495 will take place in the Netherlands in the last week of June 2009.

The next international meeting is due to take place in Faro, Portugal on 27th October – 1st November 2008. Further details can be found here.

To join the mailing list of IGCP Project 495 or the INQUA CMP Northwest Europe working group please contact Roland Gehrels ([email protected]).

Edwards, R.J., Brooks, A., Shennan, I., Milne, G. and Bradley, S. 2008. Reply: Postglacial sea-level observations from Ireland and their role in glacial rebound modelling. Journal of Quaternary Science, doi:10.1002/jqs.1162. In press.

McCabe, A.M., 2008. Comment: Postgalcial relative sea-level observations from Ireland and their role in glacial rebound modelling. A.J. Brooks, S.L. Bradley, R.J. Edwards, G.A. Milne, B. Horton and I. Shennan (2008), Journal of Quaternary Science 23, 175-192. Journal of Quaternary Science, doi:10.1002/jqs.1163. In press.

Kate Southall
Department of Geography
Museum Building
Trinity College, University of Dublin
Dublin 2