Late Devensian and Holocene relative sea level changes on the Isly of Skye, Scotland

  • Katherine Selby

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    Five coastal sites have been studies on the Isle of Skye to investigate Late Devensian and Holocene relative sea level changes. In the field, detailed stratigraphical work, geomorphological mapping and levelling were undertaken and representatives cores were sampled. Detailed pollen and diatom analyses were undertaken in the laboratory and samples were submitted for radiocarbon assay where distinct pollen, diatom or lithostratigraphical changes were recorded. Loss on ignition analysis was also undertaken to ascertain the carbon content of the samples.

    The investigations have revealed that during the Late Devensian marine transgressions were experienced at two sites in southern Skye. These are thought to relate to readvances of the ice that arrested the isostatic recovery of the land, caused renewed isostatic depression and upon deglaciation, allowed marine waters to penetrate the sites. At Inver Aulavaig the transgression is thought to relate to the Wester Ross Readvance recorded in Wester Ross, Coll and Tiree and at Point of Sleat the transgression is thought to relate the Loch Lomond Readvance recorded extensively in Scotland. Relative sea level at Point of Sleat (southern Skye) then fell below an altitude of 4.13mOD at 10460+-50BP and remained low during the early Holocene until the Main Postglacial Transgression occurred. This transgression is recorded at three of the sites: at Inver Aulavaig (southern Skye) at 8850+-70BP where it had attained an altitude of at least 5.10mOD, at Peinchorran (eastern Skye) where it is thought to have been underway by 7980+-BP and attained an altitude of 4.49mOD and at Talisker Bay (western Skye) at 7790+-100BP where it had attained an altitude of -2.18mOD. At Ardmore Bay (northern Skye) it is thought that the Main Postglacial Transgression did not reach an altitude of 3.34mOD. It is possible that barrier formation at some of the sites accompanied the early states of the Mian Postglacial Transgression.

    It is thought that regression of the sea occurred between circa 6600 BP and circa 5400 BP and remained low until circa 4200 BP when a later rise in relative sea level took place at Peinchorran attaining a maximum altitude of 4.90mOD. A late Holocene transgression is also recorded at Point of Sleat at between circa 3800 BP and circa 2900 BP where it attained an altitude of greater than 4.13mOD and at Inver Aulavaig after circa 3200 BP where it attained an altitude of between 5.10-6.01mOD. It is unclear whether this episode of high relative sea level represents the diachronous nature of one late Holocene transgression or several fluctuations in relative sea level during the late Holocene. Following the late Holocene transgression, relative sea level fell until the present day.

    Comparison of the data obtained from Skye with the isobase maps and rheological models suggests that the isobases for the Main Lateglacial Shoreline (Firth et al., 1993) show a good fit in age and altitude but the rheological model of Lambeck (1993b) for 10500 BP requires modification. The isobases for the Main Postglacial Shoreline appear to lie circa 4m too high for the sites studied on Skye and the isobases produced for a late Holocene shoreline appear to be greatly in error (Firth et al., 1993). It is possible that the build up of ice during the Loch Lomond Stadial may have had a greater effect on crustal movements than previously thought and this may account for discrepancies identified in the isobase maps. The study of isolation basins and back-barrier environments has allowed an assessment of their potential in recording relative sea level changes. The use of isolation basins in areas devoid of estuarine sedimentation has been particualrly demonstrated.

    The vegetation reconstruction undertaken, suggests that variations do occur in coastal locations compared to sites further inland, although these are subtle. The dates obtained for the increase in taxa such as 'Corylus avellana' and 'Alnus' and the recording of anthropogenic indicators on the vegetation, agree with those previously obtained for Skye. The use of pollen analysis in verifying the radiocarbon dates obtained, particualrly for the Late Devensian, has been recognised and, combined with diatom analysis, has provided a comprehensive database from which to reconstruct past relative sea levels.
    Date of Award1997
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University
    SponsorsEuropean Commission
    SupervisorDavid Edward Smith (Supervisor) & Alistair G. Dawson (Supervisor)

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