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The Holocene evolution of the barrier and the back-barrier basins of Belgium and the Netherlands as a function of late Weichselian morphology, relative sea-level rise and sediment supply

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 April 2016

Dirk J. Beets*
Netherlands Institute of Applied Geoscience TNO - National Geological Survey, P.O. Box 80015, 3508 TA Utrecht, the Netherlands
Adam J. F. van der Spek
Netherlands Institute of Applied Geoscience TNO - National Geological Survey, P.O. Box 80015, 3508 TA Utrecht, the Netherlands
2Corresponding author; e-mail:
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Flooding of the southern part of the North Sea occurred between 9000 and 8000 BP, when the rate of relative sea-level rise was on the order of 0.7 cm per year for the Dover Strait Region and 1.6 cm per year for the area north of the Frisian Islands, forcing the shoreline to recede rapidly. When relative sea-level rise decelerated after 7000 BP for the Belgian coast and 6000 BP for the central Netherlands coast, sediment supply by the tidal currents balanced the creation of accommodation space in the estuaries and other back-barrier basins. Consequently, the barrier started to stabilize, and the tidal basins and their inlets silted up. Between 5500 and 4500 BP, the Belgian coastal plain changed into a freshwater marsh with peat accumulation, and the same happened 500–1000 years later in the western provinces of the Netherlands. The E-W running barrier/back-barrier system of the Frisian Islands in the northern Netherlands stayed open until today, however, because of lower sediment supply.

The period between 4000 and 2000 BP was relatively quiet due to the strong deceleration of the rate of sea-level rise; peat cushions developed behind the barriers, which were straightened by erosion of the headlands. Major and often catastrophic flooding occurred in the Middle Ages, when the estuaries in the southwestern part of the Netherlands formed.

About 226 (± 15%) × 109 m3 sediment, mostly sand, is stored in the barriers and back-barrier basins of the Netherlands, 70% of which was deposited prior to 5000 BP. About 10% of the stored sediment is estimated to be of alluvial origin. Most of the sediment is derived by the erosion of the Pleistocene basement during recession of the barriers, but tide-induced crossshore transport from the North Sea forms an additional source for the barriers and back-barriers of the west-facing coast of the Netherlands.

Research Article
Copyright © Stichting Netherlands Journal of Geosciences 2000


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