An ever changing landscape

Discover the development of the Wadden Sea's coastline over the last 150.000 years. By scrolling over the maps you will find out how the ice ages influenced the coastline and why - seen from a geological point of view - the Wadden Sea is a very young landscape.

Game Idea: IWSS Landscape Journey
The game takes you and your pupils on a journey through "space and time" along the Wadden Sea coast, featuring maps, "wittnesses to history" and visions of coastal development. Free Download in the IWSS Teacher's Lounge

Landscape Journey

Landscape Journey

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150.000 ago

  • About 150,000 years ago, the whole North Sea basin was covered with a thick layer of ice: it was the Saale or Saalian ice age.
  • The entire North Sea water was bound frozen in glaciers.
  • The ice also covered large parts of northern Germany. The glacier's southern border ran along a line between Düsseldorf, Hameln and Meissen.
  • The Saale ice age lasted about 170,000 years from 300,000 years until 130,000 years before now. Then it slowly got warmer.

120.000 ago

  • The Saale ice age was followed by the Eemian interglacial warm period about 130,000 years ago.
  • Temperatures rose, glaciers melted and water filled the North Sea basin.
  • About 120,000 years ago, the coastline was quite similar to the present coastline.
  • The Eemian interglacial warm period lasted only about 15,000 years until 115,000 years before today. Then it got colder again.

45.000 ago

  • The Eemian interglacial was followed by the Weichselian ice age from ca. 115,000 years before now.
  • As in the Saale ice age, the North Sea water was bound frozen in glaciers. However, the Weichselian glaciers did not reach the present coast line in the Wadden Sea area.
  • Weite Teile der südlichen Nordsee waren Festland. Mammuts, Wollnashörner und Rentiere bevölkerten die Landschaft zwischen Dänemark und England.
  • While sea levels dropped, large parts of the southern North Sea became part of the mainland. Mammoth, woolly rhinoceros and reindeer lived in the landscape between Denmark and England.
  • The Weichselian ice age lasted until 12,000 years before today.

12.000 ago

  • At the end of the Weichselian ice age about 12,000 years ago, the sea level was nearly 100 m below today's level.
  • With melting glaciers, the water level rose worldwide and from the Atlantic Ocean seawater reached the northern North Sea.
  • From the south, the rivers Elbe, Weser, Ems and Rhein flowed into the North Sea basin.
  • The temperatures got milder and peat bogs developed. Parts of this peat can still be found on the coast today.

9.000 ago

  • The melting of the ice age glaciers lead to a quick rise in sea level. When the level had reached 40 m below today's level, the water also flooded the North Sea from the south via the English Channel.
  • Since then, two waves of tides daily flow into the North Sea: one from the north and one from the southwest.
  • Together with continuously rising sea levels these currents had a major effect on the further development of the coast.

6.000 ago

  • About 6,000 years ago the sea level was only 5 m below the current level.
  • The forces of the two tidal waves from north and southwest create a "bulldozer"-effect:
    • Sand from the North Sea was moved towards the coast and formed a long line of sandbanks - ancestors of today's islands.
    • Between these sandbanks and the mainland, where the current was warded off, peat bogs developed that were later flooded by sea water and turned into mudflats.

1.500 ago

  • With still rising sea levels the sandbanks continued to move further towards the coast..
  • 1,500 years ago the sea level rise stopped and the sandbanks came to a halt where since then the Frisian islands (North, East and West) are situated.
  • Behind the sandbanks extensive mudflats developed. Several tidal areas formed large bays reaching far into today's mainland.