EGU General Assembly 2021
© Author(s) 2021. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Sclerochronological evidence of pronounced seasonality from the Pliocene of the southern North Sea Basin, and its implication

Andrew Johnson1, Annemarie Valentine2, Melanie Leng3, Bernd Schöne4, Hilary Sloane3, and Stijn Goolaerts5
Andrew Johnson et al.
  • 1School of Environmental Sciences, University of Derby, Derby DE22 1GB, United Kingdom (
  • 2School of Geography and Environmental Science, Nottingham Trent University, Southwell NG25 0QF, United Kingdom (
  • 3National Environmental Isotope Facility, British Geological Survey, Keyworth NG12 5GG, United Kingdom (
  • 4Institute of Geosciences, University of Mainz, 55128 Mainz, Germany (
  • 5Directorate Earth and History of Life, Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, 1000 Brussels, Belgium (

Various elements of the biota of the early Pliocene Coralline Crag Formation (southern North Sea Basin, eastern England) have been taken to indicate a warm temperate marine climate, with summer surface temperatures above 20 °C and winter temperatures above 10 °C [1]. However, summer and winter temperature estimates from oxygen-isotope (δ18O) sclerochronology of benthic invertebrates are typically in the respective cool temperate range when calculated using a plausible modelled value for water δ18O of +0.1‰. For instance, examples of the bivalve mollusc Aequipecten opercularis from the Ramsholt Member indicate summer maximum temperatures of 11.0–15.7 °C and winter minimum temperatures of 4.4–7.1 °C [2]. Amongst other evidence, the pattern of microgrowth-increment variation in Ramsholt-Member A. opercularis points to a depth below the summer thermocline, hence the temperatures recorded for that season provide an underestimate of surface temperature; this may well have been in the warm temperate summer range [2], as suggested by the pelagic dinoflagellate biota [3]. However, the cool temperate benthic winter temperatures indicated by isotopic data are likely also to have obtained at the surface, pointing to a greater seasonal range in surface temperature (perhaps > 15 °C) than in the modern North Sea (< 13 °C) [2]. This conclusion is not changed by adoption of a different (invariant) value for water δ18O and also follows from data for a specific late Pliocene interval (Mid-Piacenzian Warm Period) elsewhere in the southern North Sea Basin (Belgium, Netherlands [4]). Here we present isotopic evidence of a seasonal range in surface temperature higher than now at other times in the late Pliocene. Examples of A. opercularis from several horizons in the Lillo Formation (Belgium) and the Oosterhout Formation (Netherlands) indicate seasonal ranges in benthic temperature of 10–14 °C. Seasonal variation in water δ18O can only plausibly account for about 1 °C of these ranges. Taking into consideration microgrowth-increment evidence of a setting below the summer thermocline, the seafloor ranges imply that the surface seasonal range was sometimes 17 °C or more. Other bivalves (Atrina fragilis, Arctica islandica, Pygocardia rustica, Glycymeris radiolyrata) do not indicate such a high seasonal range in benthic (and hence surface) temperature but this can be attributed to inadequate sampling—time-averaging or a failure to recover evidence of seasonal extremes because of growth breaks. The high surface temperature range could reflect a reduction in vigour of the North Atlantic Current and hence diminished oceanic supply of heat in winter.


[1] Vignols et al. (2019), Chem. Geol. 526, 62–83.

[2] Johnson et al. (2020), Palaeogeogr. Palaeoclimatol. Palaeoecol. 561.

[3] Head (1997), J. Paleontol. 71, 165–193.

[4] Valentine et al. (2011), Palaeogeogr. Palaeoclimatol. Palaeoecol. 309, 9–16.

How to cite: Johnson, A., Valentine, A., Leng, M., Schöne, B., Sloane, H., and Goolaerts, S.: Sclerochronological evidence of pronounced seasonality from the Pliocene of the southern North Sea Basin, and its implication, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-7247,, 2021.