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Scotland's sea-level history

Over the last 20,000 years the level of the seas around Scotland has varied, affecting the shape of the land and leaving plenty of interesting evidence.

Fingers of sea penetrating central Scotland

Six or seven thousand years ago many of the low-lying areas along our firths, such as the Carse of Stirling, the Carse of Gowrie and the lower Clyde, would have been inundated by the sea.

Highs and lows

Sea levels in central Scotland were at their highest around 20,000 years ago as the ice was melting and the land was still depressed. They then fell for a time, but rose again between about 9,500 and 6,500 years ago when areas such as the Carse of Stirling were extended marine inlets. Later, rebound of the land overtook global sea-level rise and the coastline emerged once more.

The effects of glaciation

About 20,000 years ago the last Scottish ice sheet started to melt. Along with other ice caps in the northern hemisphere, it released vast amounts of water back into the world's oceans. This had two effects: global sea level rose, and the land which was no longer depressed by the ice rebounded upwards. The interplay between these two sets of processes has driven changes in relative sea level around Scotland's coastline.

This has resulted in Scotland's interior being raised above sea level over the last few thousand years (see picture of Arran) and the coastline of the more peripheral areas have been submerged beneath sea level (see picture of South Uist).

To find out what is happening now, read about Present and future sea levels.

Last updated on Monday 8th June 2015 at 15:03 PM. Click here to comment on this page