Word of the day: epeiric. That term describes shallow, salty seas covering part of a continental shelf. Examples include the Sundance, Zechstein and Turgai Seas – all excellently named, but alas all dried up. Epeiric seas still around today include the Hudson Bay and the Persian Gulf. And the North Sea, of which we shall now speak.
Some 10 millennia ago, during the last Ice Age, so much water was stored in huge polar ice caps that sea levels were 120 m lower than today. The North Sea consequently wasn’t a sea, but a land bridge between Britain and Europe. Geologists call this Doggerland, after the Dogger Bank, the shallowest, largest sand bank in the North Sea today. In all probability, this now sunken land land of once undulating prairie was quite densely inhabited by our Stone Age forebears. These must have been their hunting grounds, their prey the mammoths whose bones fishermen sometimes still dredge up from the sea floor.
In the 1930s, there existed at least one wild plan to reclaim this particular piece of sunken real estate from the seas, if maybe only in the pages of the editors of Modern Mechanix, an American magazine (1928-2001) that ran under a variety of titles (the best-known perhaps being Mechanix Illustrated). This map, dated to September 1930, has a slightly unbelievable air to it, and its inspiration probably isn’t Doggerland, but might well be the better-argumented Atlantropa scheme (discussed in #287 of this blog).
Under the title North Sea Drainage Project to Increase Area of Europe, a caption reads: “If the extensive schemes for the drainage of North Sea are carried out according to the plan illustrated above, which was conceived by a group of eminent English scientists, 100,000 square miles will be added to the overcrowded continents of Europe. The reclaimed land will be walled in with enormous dykes, similar to the Netherland dykes, to protect it from the sea, and the various rivers flowing into the North Sea will have their courses diverted to different outlets by means of canals.”
Conspicuously absent are the scientists’ credentials. The logistics of building a 450 mile long dyke connecting Norfolk (England) to Jutland (Denmark), rising 90 feet above the sea level, seem too daunting for this age, let alone for the 1930s. A similar dyke at the North Sea’s south end, barely 150 miles long, would only leave Antwerp and London with direct sea access, depriving the whole of the Netherlands and much of Germany and Denmark of a coastline – which can’t but have ticked them off.
The only element on this map that has become reality, is a fixed link between England and France, although it is a tunnel rather than the bridge imagined on this map. No direct train, then, between London, Berlin, Moscow and the Far East via Harwich (with its abandoned naval base) and passing in between Rotter- and Amsterdam. An inset map at the lower right shows how the map of northwestern Europe might look like, should the North Sea be reclaimed according to this scheme.
Many thanks to Flit for sending me this link to this page at the Modern Mechanix blog. (‘Yesterday’s Tomorrow Today’). And now, just for the fun of it (you never know when it might come in handy), some North Sea trivia:
- The North Sea was probably named by the Frisians, whose homeland lies to the South of it (and to the West of the East, or Baltic Sea; and to the north of what was once called the Zuiderzee, now the partially drained Ijsselmeer). Other names include Mare Frisium (‘Frisian Sea’) and Mare Germanicum (‘German Sea’).
- In 1904 near the Dogger Bank, Russian warships mistook English fishing vessels for Japanese ships and fired on them, creating a grave diplomatic incident.
- Landslides and earthquakes have been known to cause tsunamis in the North Sea; one of the earliest known examples being the Storegga Slides (occurring sometime between 8,150 and 6,000 BC), that caused a 20 m high tsunami that mainly affected the coasts of Scotland and the Faeroes. The most recent big one was the one caused by the 1931 Dogger Bank earthquake, flooding part of the British coast.
- The intriguingly named Silver Pit Crater, south of Doggers Bank, might be the result of an ancient asteroidal impact.
- The ‘Long Fourties’ and ‘Broad Fourteens’ are large areas in the North Sea where it is consistently 40 fathoms (73 m), respectively 14 fathoms (26 m) deep.
- The North Sea used to be home to populations of flamingos, pelicans, gray whales and the fascinating Great Auk (a northern-hemisphere penguin-like bird, hunted to extinction in the mid-19th century).
- Modern storm barriers should help prevent repetition of disastrous storm floods that caused much destruction and death in the past, such as the Julianenflut (‘Juliana Flood’, 1164), the Grote Mandrenke (‘Great Drowning of Men’, 1362) and the Great Flood of 1953.