Understanding the evolution and nature of the glaciated margins of the North Atlantic is of considerable importance to European academia, industry and society. The sediments and landforms along these margins provide a record of past ice sheet activity as well as spatial and temporal variations in ice-ocean-climate interaction. Notably, in terms of climate research, they provide a direct link between the deep oceans and the ice sheets sourced in the interiors of the surrounding landmasses. The North Atlantic continental margins also have considerable economic and societal importance in terms of their implications for hydrocarbon exploration (and thus the oil and gas industry) and hazard prediction and mitigation (e.g., tsunamis generated from large-scale sediment slides along the margin). Understanding their geomorphological, geophysical and sedimentological nature and, in particular, the underlying physical controls on margin evolution, is therefore of widespread importance.
Over the last 20 years, there has been a large research effort, involving both European industry and academia, which has contributed to our current understanding of the development of the glaciated North Atlantic margins. EU/ESF-funded programmes such as PONAM, ENAM I and II, STRATAGEM, COSTA, HOLSMEER have been central in major advances in understanding the modes and evolution of the ice sheet-influenced continental margins. Furthermore, they have contributed to the current awareness of the significance of this natural system in terms of climate change research and handling of natural resources and hazards in these regions. This has nurtured interactions between European academia and offshore industry with respect to the mutual exchange of data and ideas, and has also facilitated rapid technological advances in the methods used by both sectors to collect and analyse acoustic data and sediment cores from offshore areas.
Nonetheless, despite these advances, major gaps remain in our understanding of the evolution of the North Atlantic continental margins, especially with regard to the role and influence of past ice sheet growth and decay. For example the extent of ice sheet advance across the shelves surrounding the North Atlantic remains poorly defined for many areas (e.g., East Greenland and NW Britain). This is particularly the case for the NW British margin where despite over a century of research, our understanding of the associated shelf record of glaciations and, in particular, the extent and timing of ice sheet advance and retreat remains rudimentary. Deglaciation of the North Atlantic margins is an important analogue for the potential deglaciation of the modern Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets under future climate warming. Deciphering the timing and rate of past ice sheet retreat is thus important for predicting future sea-level changes and also to our understanding of feedbacks between ice sheet decay and the climate system. Furthermore, whilst the large-scale sediment architecture and slope morphology of certain sectors of the North Atlantic margins have been described and shown to exhibit contrasting forms, understanding the controls on this pattern, i.e., why the margin exhibits spatial and temporal variations in architecture and form, remains elusive. Whilst this is of interest to academia it is also, crucially, very significant for industry as understanding the large-scale nature of continental margin morphology and sediment architecture is a fundamental pre-requisite for successful hydrocarbon exploration and development (e.g., to constrain models of reservoir depth and location). In addition, an incomplete knowledge exists with regard to the maximum water depth at which iceberg scouring or iceberg turbates can be expected. This is not only relevant for modelling of extreme glacial events, but also of direct interest for offshore hazard assessment in relation to planning of oil rig locations and other seabed constructions.
Collectively, these outstanding gaps in knowledge, the requirements of the oil and gas industry, and the often sub-optimal predictive models poorly constrained by datasets, represent a major challenge and one which will require the next generation of European researchers to be equipped with the range of appropriate skills, expertise and knowledge at the interface of both academic and applied research and commercial interests. The GLANAM consortium has been designed specifically to address this shortcoming through the establishment of a multidisciplinary training network, which will train a cohort of young researchers in a range of skills relevant to academia and industry, and transferrable to many career opportunities within the field of marine geology and geophysics.