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Riled Up is a journal of science, the environment, exploration, new technology, and related commentary.  Contributors include scientists, explorers, engineers, and others who provide perspectives and context not typically offered in general news circulation.  For interested readers, additional resources are included.

The Conservation Alliance

When Massive Dams Burst

When Massive Dams Burst


Rock-Ice land bridge and glacial Lake, artist concept (credit: ICL)


In what must have been some of the most dramatic geological events ever, a glacial lake burst through a land-bridge consisting of chalk, rock, and ice in prehistoric Europe. The resulting cataracts carved the gap that now existed between Britain and France. The remnants of the bursting dam have been uncovered by the Earth Sciences Department at the Imperial College of London. Their research determined the events occurred at the end of an ice age more than 450,000 years ago creating the English Channel.

Initially, waterfalls from an ice dammed lake, created by meltwater from a receding ice-cap and rivers in northern Europe, breached the ridge at the Dover Straits. The combination of water volume and pressure produced episodes of mass erosion. Measurements of the present-day English Channel seafloor revealed sediment-infilled depressions deeply incised into bedrock which were interpreted as giant 'plunge pools' created by massive waterfalls. These depressions provided an initial model for the erosion of the Dover Strait by the spillover, with plunge pool erosion, and subsequent dam breaching by mega-floods in a 2-step process. According to the ICL's announcement:

"previously, the researchers revealed geophysical evidence of giant valleys on the seafloor in the central part of English Channel. They believed these valley networks were evidence of a megaflood gouging out the land, which they speculated may have been caused by a catastrophic breach in a chalk-rock ridge joining Britain to France. Now working with colleagues in Europe, they have shown the details of how this chalk ridge in the Dover Strait was breached. New geophysical data from Belgium and France has been combined with seafloor data from the UK showing evidence of huge holes and a valley system located on the seafloor. Cross-cutting of the submerged landforms by a prominent eroded valley, characterized by features that are typically associated with catastrophic flooding, indicate the final opening of the Strait by high-magnitude floodings."


  Pre-English Channel ice-land bridge, cataracts, and plunge pools with flooding map after collapse (credit: ICL)    

One of the lead researchers noted:

"Based on the evidence that we’ve seen, we believe the Dover Strait 450,000 years ago would have been a huge rock ridge made of chalk joining Britain to France, looking more like the frozen tundra in Siberia than the green environment we know today."

A brief explanation of the pre-channel, tundra environmental was included with the report.

The complete study is available here.


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