The North Atlantic margins are archetypally passive, yet they have experienced post-rift vertical movements of up to kilometre scale. The Cenozoic history of such movements along the NW European margin, from Ireland to mid-Norway, is examined by integrating published analyses of uplift and subsidence with higher resolution tectono-stratigraphic indicators of relative movements (including results from the STRATAGEM project). Three episodes of epeirogenic movement are identified, in the early, mid- and late Cenozoic, distinct from at least one phase of compressive tectonism. Two forms of epeirogenic movement are recognised, referred to as tilting (coeval subsidence and uplift, rotations <1° over distances of 100s of Kilometres) and sagging (strongly differential subsidence, rotations up to 4° over distances <100 km). Each epeirogenic episode involved relatively rapid (<10 Ma) km-scale tectonic movements that drove major changes in patterns of sedimentation to find expression in regional unconformity-bounded stratigraphic units. Early Cenozoic tilting (late Paleocene to early Eocene, c. 60-50 Ma) caused the basinward progradation of shelf-slope wedges from elongate uplifts along the inner continental margin and from offshore highs. Mid-Cenozoic sagging (late Eocene to early Oligocene, c. 35-25 Ma) ended wedge progradation and caused the onset of contourite deposition in deep-water basins. Late Cenozoic tilting (early Pliocene to present, <4±0.5 Ma) again caused the basinward progradation of shelf-slope wedges, from uplifts along the inner margin (including broad dome-like features) and from offshore highs. The early, mid- and late Cenozoic epeirogenic episodes coincided with Atlantic plate reorganisations, but the observed km-scale tectonic movements are too large to be accounted for as flexural deflections due to intra-plate stress variations. Mantle-lithosphere interactions are implied, but the succession of epeirogenic episodes, of differing form, are difficult to reconcile with the various syn-to post-rift mechanisms of permanent and/ or transient movements proposed in the hypothetical context of a plume beneath Iceland. The epeirogenic movements can be explained as dynamic topographic responses to changing forms of small-scale convective flow in the upper mantle: tilting as coeval upwelling and downwelling above an edge-driven convection cell, sagging as a loss of dynamic support above a former upwelling. The inferred Cenozoic succession of epeirogenic tilting, sagging and tilting is proposed to record the episodic evolution of upper mantle convection during ocean opening, a process that may also be the underlying cause of plate reorganisations. The postulated episodes of flow reorganisation in the NE Atlantic region have testable implications for epeirogenic movements along the adjacent oceanic spreading ridge and conjugate continental margin, as well as on other Atlantic-type 'passive' margins.
- Programme Area 3: Energy Resources