A New Study Shows A Massive Sheet Of Ice Blanketed The British Isles 2.5 Million Years Ago

The sheet of ice not only covered the British Isles, but also buried half of the North Sea over one million years earlier than scientists originally estimated.

A large sheet of ice covered the British Isles 2.5 million years ago.
Handout / Getty Images

The sheet of ice not only covered the British Isles, but also buried half of the North Sea over one million years earlier than scientists originally estimated.

A new study has revealed that an enormous sheet of ice once covered the British Isles, even extending into the middle of the North Sea, over one million years before scientists had originally estimated.

Both the University of Aberdeen and the University of Manchester were involved in the new research, as Phys.org reports. The surprising results of the study were discovered after scientists analyzed seismic data from deep below the North Sea and carefully scrutinized sediment cores in the area.

Scientists learned that not only were the UK and Ireland totally submerged beneath ice, but that Scandinavia was also suffering the same fate at this point in time and with even more ice covering it.

At the time of these ice sheets, the North Sea wouldn’t have looked at all as it does today and would have appeared to more closely resemble something along the lines of a fjord.

With the North Sea looking extremely narrow, it was made even more dramatic and majestic after pieces of ice from the British Isles and Scandinavia would occasionally break off, forming icebergs that could reach nearly 1,000 feet in height.

At one point around 1.9 million years ago, enough of these icebergs from Scandinavia and the British Isles filled the North Sea to the point where it no longer looked like a fjord.

Scientists once believed that this glaciation period of the North Sea occurred roughly 1.1 million years ago, but new research now shows that it was really closer to 2.5 million years ago.

The University of Manchester’s Dr. Rachel Harding spoke about the multidisciplinary work that geoscientists have been conducting, explaining that crucial evidence of the true age of this glaciation period could only have been obtained offshore.

“The North Sea basin has been subsiding for millions of years, continually preserving layer upon layer of evidence for past ice sheets, the evidence for which is not available onshore. Using geophysical data we then searched these different layers for traces of long-disappeared ice sheets.”

Dr. Andrew Newton of Queen’s University Belfast painted a picture of the British Isles as one that looked almost Norwegian 2.5 million years ago.

“From these results we discovered that if you were to visit the North Sea 2.5 million years ago, Britain would have been under an ice sheet and you would have seen massive icebergs floating around the North Sea and as far south as the coast of the Netherlands.”

As Professor Mads Huuse further elaborated, most of the northwestern regions of Europe would have been completely covered by ice 1.9 million years ago, something that was helped along by the glaciated ice sheets in the North Sea that came from the British Isles and Scandinavia.

“This work has completely rewritten our understanding of the glacial history of the North Sea and shown that large ice sheets frequently covered the British Isles from 2.5 million years ago. Then, from about 1.9 million years ago, the British and Scandinavian ice sheets often merged together in the middle of the North Sea across different ice ages, encasing much of northwest Europe under a blanket of ice.”

The new study on the British Isles being completely covered by ice 2.5 million years ago can be found in Science Advances.