The geomorphology of palaeo-ice streams : identification, characterisation and implications for ice stream functioning
Ice streams are the dominant drainage pathways of contemporary ice sheets and their location and behaviour are viewed as key controls on ice sheet stability. Identifying palaeo-ice streams is of paramount importance if we are to produce accurate reconstructions of former ice sheets and examine their critical role in the oceanclimate system. Many workers have invoked palaeo-ice streams from a variety of former ice sheets, despite a limited understanding of their glacial geomorphology. This thesis addresses the problem by predicting several diagnostic geomorphological criteria indicative of ice stream activity. These are developed objectively from the known characteristics of contemporary ice streams and can be summarised as: large flow-set dimensions (>20 km wide and >150 km long), highly convergent flow patterns, highly attenuated subglacial bedforms (length:width >10: 1), Boothia-type dispersal plumes, abrupt lateral margins «2 km), ice stream marginal moraines, evidence of pervasively deformed till, and submarine sediment accumulations (marine-terminating ice streams only). Collectively, the criteria are used to construct conceptual landsystems of palaeo-ice stream tracks. Using satellite imagery and aerial photography to map glacial geomorphology, identification of the criteria is used to validate the location of a previously hypothesised ice stream and identify a hitherto undetected palaeo-ice stream from the former Laurentide Ice Sheet. Implications for ice stream basal processes are explored and their ice sheet-wide significance is assessed. On Victoria Island (Arctic Canada) five of the geomorphological criteria are identified and the extent of the marine-based M'Clintock Channel Ice Stream is reconstructed at 720 km in length and 140 km in width. The ice stream (operating between 10,400 and 10,000 yr BP) was located within a broad topographic trough, but internal glaciological processes, rather than properties of the bed controlled the margin locations. It eroded into pre-existing unconsolidated sediments and left a spectacular pattern of subglacially-produced landforms, recording a snapshot view of the bed prior to ice stream shut-down. Sediment availability appears critical to its functioning (deformable bed?) and the debris flux of the ice stream is inferred to have been high. Frictional shut-down occurred once down-cutting through sediments reached hard bedrock close to the terminus. The presence of four of the geomorphological criteria are used to identify a terrestrial ice stream which drained the Keewatin Sector of the Laurentide Ice Sheet between ca. 10,000 and 8,500 yr BP. Its size is reconstructed at over 450 km in length and 140 km in width, and it left behind a subglacial bedform pattern consisting of highly attenuated drumlins (length:width ratios up to 48: 1) displaying exceptional parallel conformity. This represents an isochronous bedform pattern and variations in lineament elongation ratio are thought to be a useful proxy for ice velocity. Highest elongation ratios occur immediately downstream of a topographic step where the ice stream entered a sedimentary basin. It is inferred that the ice stream was triggered by climatic warming which altered the ice sheet configuration and the thermal state of the bed. A switch from cold to warm-based conditions probably triggered rapid basal sliding. The ice stream (and a tributary) shut down when it ran out of ice, causing widespread thinning of the ice sheet and subsequent deglaciation. These ice streams denote considerable ice sheet instability over both hard and soft (deformable) beds and emphasise the enormous effects that ice streams had in controlling the deglaciation of the Laurentide Ice Sheet.