Orkney has a stunning array of coastal scenery which is amongst the most impressive in the British Isles. The wonderful variety reflects the interaction of rock type, glaciation and sea level change in one of the highest energy marine environments in the world. The exposed rock coasts facing the Atlantic and the North Sea are faced by many kilometres of high cliffs, often highly indented by deep geos and penetrated by spectacular caves. Long sections of the coastline are fringed by extensive shore platforms. More sheltered shores carry softer forms, with extensive dune systems and broad, empty beaches. Change is evident everywhere, with cliff falls and the progressive erosion and destruction of archaeological sites in bay heads, a reflection of the energy of the coastal environment and of continuing sea level rise.

  • The outer coast of Orkney is an outstanding location to study the erosion of hard rock coasts. Evidence of major erosion is not hard to find. The great bowl of Enegars corrie is losing its edge to the sea. The egg-shaped headland of Marwick Head is a dome half lost.

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  • Amongst the many beauties of Orkney are the beaches which fringe the bays and ayres of the inner coast. These are dynamic forms, changing shape with the seasons and gradually retreating landward as sea level rises.

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  • Orkney is a dissected landmass drowned by postglacial sea level rise. A drop in sea level of just 35 m would unite the archipelago into a single island. The individual islands may represent hills that formed the watershed areas of preglacial drainage basins but it is linear glacial erosion which has separated one island from another and severed Orkney from the rest of Scotland.

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  • World coasts have seen sea-level variation of approximately 100 metres within the past 11,500 years through melting of the ice caps. When the ice caps melt the sea level rises globally (eustatically). The relative sea-level at any location is measured proportionate to the nearby land, which is itself subject to tectonic movement both up and down.

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