The soils of Orkney are developed on a range of parent materials. Where the till is thin or absent, soils are developed directly from weathered or shattered sandstone. The till is generally sandy and therefore free-draining but clay-rich variants give waterlogged soils on low ground. Dune sands offer exceptional drainage and high Ca contents.
As the climate warmed rapidly at the start of the Holocene, heathland was replaced by grassland with tall herbs. In records from other parts of Scotland this community was rapidly replaced by tree-dominated vegetation, but in west Mainland grassland persisted for as much as 2000 years.
Over the last 20 years detailed analyses of peat bogs on Hoy have revealed thin bands of tephra. These ash bands are invisible to the naked eye but visible under the microscope and can be traced quickly using their magnetic signature.
Many questions remain about environments on Orkney during this cold interval. In Scotland, the Loch Lomond Stadial is a key interval in shaping of the landscape. In the mountains, glaciers reformed and advanced rapidly
The Lateglacial Interstadial was a period of mild climate which began around 13,000 radiocarbon years ago. The Greenland ice core data indicate that the amelioration was remarkably rapid, possibly occurring within 50 years.
The Holocene Interglacial started 11,500 years ago with the final retreat of the polar ice caps and rapid global warming. Evidence from southern Greenland ice cores suggests that a 7 ˚C warming may have taken less than 50 years.