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Apr 05, 2017 10:05 AM EDT

Scientists Find The First Brexit Happened 450,000 Years Ago

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The United Kingdom (UK) has begun the formal process of its exit from the European Union (EU); however, scientists now say that this is nothing new. There is evidence the UK has had an earlier "Brexit" around 450,000 years ago.

Millions of years ago, Britain was part of Europe. What is now known as the chalky cliff of the Dover Strait used to be a high limestone ridge that extended all the way, to what is now known as France. The geology allowed living creatures of that era to freely pass back and forth.

However, this road was cut off by a catastrophic flood about 450,000 years ago. Today, researchers have uncovered how the land mass split and detailed their evidence in a study published in the journal Nature Communications.

Apparently, the flood created waterfalls that cut through the limestone ridge exposing what is now known as the Dover Strait. Sanjeev Gupta, professor of earth science at Imperial College London, dubbed the geological separation as "Brexit 1.0."

Before the study, everyone agrees there was a rock ridge between France and Britain, the cause of its disappearance causing the split was fully debated upon. Dr. Jenny Collier, also of the Department of Earth Sciences at Imperial said gradual erosion or sudden event might have been the cause of the split.

The 1960s showed an initial clue was spotted when engineers surveying the Dover Strait spotted holes on the seafloor, each hundreds of meters to several kilometers in diameter, and up to 140 meters deep and filled with loose gravel. Though being a bit peculiar, no one really focused on them.

Back in 1985, a marine geologist Alec Smith of Bedford College in London, suggested that the holes were caused by ancient waterfalls, his suggestion, however, cannot be confirmed due to lack of data, Wired reported. With improvements in surveying technology and a decade's worth of data, Collier, Gupta and the rest of their team have shown that Smith was right.

The researchers believe that a second flood took place 150,000 that could have separated the landmass altogether after being weakened by the first flooding event. In terms of the catastrophic failure of the ridge, an earth tremor is being looked at, which, according to Collier is still characteristic of the region to this day.

It would be a huge undertaking and challenge to study the "geological Brexit," said Gupta. The English Channel, aside from having huge tidal swells, is the world's busiest shipping lane.

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