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North Sea sediment analysis helps scientists reconstruct ancient tsunami

New sedaDNA analysis techniques allowed scientists to reconstruct the tsunami that struck a region known as Doggerland some 8,000 years ago. Photo by Martin Bates/UWTSD<br>
New sedaDNA analysis techniques allowed scientists to reconstruct the tsunami that struck a region known as Doggerland some 8,000 years ago. Photo by Martin Bates/UWTSD

July 16 (UPI) -- By analyzing the sedimentary ancient DNA, sedaDNA, deposited on Doggerland, the landmass that once connected Britain and mainland Europe, researchers were able to reconstruct a tsunami that occurred 8,150 years ago.

During the mid-holocene, a marine inundation swept away Doggerland, and Britain became separated from the mainland by the North Sea.

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To better understand the tsunami that hit Doggerland more than 8,000 years ago, researchers used a variety of breakthrough techniques to study DNA trapped in marine sediment samples collected from the North Sea, researchers said on Thursday.

One of the new analysis methods allowed University of Warwick scientists to -- for the first time -- reconstruct the biomass changes caused by a major event.

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"Exploring Doggerland, the lost landscape underneath the North Sea, is one of the last great archaeological challenges in Europe," study co-author Vince Gaffney said in a news release.

By analyzing the concentration of certain DNA signatures in the ancient sediment samples, scientists were able to estimate the effects of the mid-holocene tsunami on the abundance of trees and their woody mass.

Researchers also developed new techniques for authenticating compromised sedaDNA, like DNA that's been damaged by centuries spent underwater.

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By studying the damages experienced by certain DNA signatures and measuring the movement of biomolecules in the sediment core column, scientists were also able to determine how much sedaDNA had moved since being originally deposited.

"This study represents an exciting milestone for sedimentary ancient DNA studies establishing a number of breakthrough methods to reconstruct an 8,150-year-old environmental catastrophe in the lands that existed before the North Sea flooded them away into history," Warwick life scientist Robin Allaby said in a news release.

Researchers detailed the novel sedaDNA analysis techniques this week in the journal Geoscience.

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"This work demonstrates that an interdisciplinary team of archaeologists and scientists can bring this landscape back to life and even throw new light on one of prehistory's great natural disasters, the Storegga Tsunami," said Gaffney, a researcher at the University of Bradford.

"The events leading up to the Storegga tsunami have many similarities to those of today. Climate is changing and this impacts on many aspects of society, especially in coastal locations," Gaffney said.

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