The submerged paleolandscape of the Maltese Islands: Morphology, evolution and relation to Quaternary environmental change

Aaron Micallef*, Federica Foglini, Timothy Le Bas, Lorenzo Angeletti, Vittorio Maselli, Alessandro Pasuto, Marco Taviani

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Citations (Scopus)


After the end of the Last Glacial Maximum, 450 km(2) of former terrestrial and coastal landscape of the Maltese Islands was drowned by the ensuing sea level rise. In this study we use high resolution seafloor data (multibeam echosounder data, seismic reflection profiles, and Remotely Operated Vehicle imagery) and bottom samples to reconstruct similar to 300 km(2) of this submerged Maltese paleolandscape. The observed paleolandscape is exceptionally well preserved and comprises former coastal landforms - (i) fault-related escarpments, (ii) paleoshore platforms and associated shorelines, (iii) paleoshoreline deposits, and (iv) mass movement deposits - and former terrestrial landforms - (v) river valleys, (vi) alluvial plains, (vii) karstified limestone plateaus, and (viii) sinkholes. These elements indicate that the paleolandscape has been primarily shaped by tectonic activity combined with fluvial, coastal, slope instability and karstic processes; these are the same processes the shaped the current terrestrial and coastal landscape. By correlating the identified landforms with the timing of known changes in sea level during the last glacial cycle, we infer that the alluvial plains and the shallowest limestone plateaus had up to 100 kyr to develop, whereas the paleoshoreline deposits are likely to have formed between 28 kyr and 14 kyr. The most prominent paleoshore platforms, shorelines and river valleys were generated between 60 kyr and 20 kyr. Fluvial erosion is likely to have been prevalent during periods of low sea level (Last Glacial Maximum and stadial conditions during MIS 3), whereas karst processes should have been more effective during warm and humid interstadial periods. Our results have implications for improving the characterization of past environments and climates, as well as providing a much needed background for prehistoric and geoarcheological research in the central Mediterranean region. (C) 2012 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)129-147
Number of pages19
JournalMarine Geology
Early online date23 Nov 2012
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2013


  • submerged paleolandscape
  • seafloor mapping
  • Quaternary
  • Maltese Islands
  • Mediterranean
  • sea level change


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