The British-Irish Ice Sheet

Bethan Davies cleaning a face for sedimentological logging in County Durham.
Bethan Davies cleaning a face for sedimentological logging in County Durham.

My PhD research at the Department for Geography, Durham University (PhD awarded 2009) was orientated towards understanding dynamic interactions between the British and Fennoscandian ice sheets in the North Sea. I was interested in how various ice lobes interacted, and whether there was any evidence for incursion of Scandinavian ice in north-east England.


Field site locations

My research was focussed at just four sites: Warren House Gill, the Easington Raised Beach, Whitburn Bay, and boreholes from the North Sea. These sites, on the coastline of northern England, were ideally located to capture the sedimentological signal of different ice masses during Quaternary glaciations.

PhD field study sites in northern England, overlain on the SRTM digital elevation model. Figure from Davies et al., 2013: The Quaternary of Northumerland, Durham and North Yorkshire, QRA Field Guide.

At Warren House Gill, Easington and at Whitburn Bay, sediments were exposed in dramatic coastal exposures, allowing detailed investigations of glacial sediments. I used sedimentological petrological techniques to investigate glacigenic depositional processes, provenance and timing of deposition. These well-exposed sediments offer unique insights into ice-sheet dynamics during Middle and Late-Pleistocene glaciations in NE England.

Accessing the sediments was difficult at Warren House Gill as they had been covered by mining waste from Twentieth Century coal mining in County Durham. We had to use a JCB to uncover the sediments!

A JCB uncovering sediments at Warren House Gill.
A JCB uncovering sediments at Warren House Gill.

Principle research outcomes

Some of the key findings related to the timing and interaction between key ice lobes flowing eastwards into the North Sea during the Last Glacial Maximum. Our work showed that ice flowed easts through the Tyne Gap first, and then flowed south, with ice sourced in the Cheviots. This North Sea Lobe was deflected onto eastern England, probably by the pressure of confluent Scandinavian ice in the North Sea.

Ice flow during the Devensian and Last Glacial Maximum in northern England
Ice flow during the Devensian and Last Glacial Maximum in northern England. Figure from Davies et al,. 2013: The Quaternary of Northumberland, Durham and North Yorkshire.

Warren House Gill contains some of the oldest glacial sediments in northern England, dating to the Middle Pleistocene. They were reported to contain Scandinavian erratics, thus providing evidence of Middle Pleistocene ice-sheet incursions into northern England.

An extensive sedimentological and provenance analysis suggested that the lowest diamicton at Warren House Gill is actually a water-lain diamicton, deposited under glaciomarine conditions infront of an encroaching ice mass. Although we found erratics and microfossils that may derive from the northeastern North Sea, we found no definitive evidence of Scandinavian erratics. It seems increasingly unlikely that the Scandinavian ice sheet ever reached the coast of eastern England during the Pleistocene.

Below is a list of publications from this work.



Davies, B. J., Yorke, L., Bridgland, D. R., and Roberts, D. H. (2013). The Quaternary of Northumberland, Durham and North Yorkshire: Field Guide, pp. 222. Quaternary Research Association, London.

Demarchi, B., Collins, M. J., Tomiak, P. J., Davies, B. J., and Penkman, K. E. H. (2013). Intra-crystalline protein diagenesis (IcPD) in Patella vulgata. Part II: Breakdown and temperature sensitivity. Quaternary Geochronology 16 (0), 158-172.


Livingstone, S.J., Evans, D.J.A., Ó Cofaigh, C., Davies, B.J., Merritt, J.W., Huddart, D., Mitchell, W.A., Roberts, D.H., & Yorke, L., 2012. Glaciodynamics of the central sector of the British-Irish Ice Sheet in Northern England. Earth-Science reviews 111, 25-55.

Davies, B.J., Roberts, D.H., Bridgland, D.R., & Ó Cofaigh, C., 2012. Dynamic Devensian ice flow in NE England: a sedimentological reconstruction. Boreas 41, 337-366.

Davies, B.J., Roberts, D.H., Bridgland, D.R., Ó Cofaigh, C., Riding, J.B., Demarchi, B., Penkman, K.E.H., & Pawley, S.M., 2012. Timing and depositional environments of the Scandinavian glaciation of northeast England: New evidence from Warren House Gill, County Durham. Quaternary Science Reviews 44, 180-212.


Davies, B.J.,Roberts, D.H., Bridgland, D.R., Ó Cofaigh, C., & Riding, J.B., 2011. Provenance and depositional environments of Quaternary sediments in the North Sea Basin. Journal of Quaternary Science 26, 59-75.


Davies, B.J., Bridgland D.R., Roberts, D.H., Ó Cofaigh, C., Pawley, S.M., Candy, I., Demarchi, B., Penkman, K.E.H., & Austin, W.E.N., 2009. The age and stratigraphic context of the Easington Raised Beach, County Durham, UK. Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association 120, 183-198.

Davies, B.J., Roberts, D.H., Ó Cofaigh, C., Bridgland, D.R., Riding, J., Phillips E.R., & Teasdale, D.A., 2009. Interlobate ice sheet dynamics and ice marginal controls on sediment deposition at Whitburn Bay, County Durham, England. Boreas 38, 555-578.

PhD Thesis

You can download my PhD thesis from here.

Citation: Davies, B.J., 2009. British and Fennoscandian Ice-Sheet Interactions during the Quaternary, Unpubl. PhD Thesis. Department of Geography, Durham University, Durham, 502 pp.

Bethan Davies Thesis (Zipped PDFs – 70MB)

Ethesis from the Durham University website (smaller)


I am a Senior Lecturer at Newcastle Univeristy, specialising in glaciology and glacial geology. I wrote and developed the website as part of an ongoing commitment to outreach, education and research impact. Read more about me at

1 thought on “The British-Irish Ice Sheet”

  1. Mehdi Reza Poursoltani

    Dear Bethan,
    Your study is so interested for me. It would be your knid nessto let me know if you have any new work. I worked on Jurassic (turbidits strat) and Early Cambrian deposits (fluvial deposits).

    Looking forward to hear from you.



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