Late Quaternary glaciation in Southwest Ireland
During the last main phase of glaciations (26-13kaBP) an ice cap developed in south west Ireland and ice, from a dispersal centre in the vicinity of Kenmare, flowed north and diverged on the southern slopes of the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks. On these slopes, a weathering limit separates ice-moulded bedrock, on low ground, from frost-weathered terrain above. Assessment of bedrock dilation joint characteristics, Schmidt hammer R-value data, clay-sized mineral contents and magnetic properties of basal soil samples confirms significant contrasts in the degree of weathering above and below this limit. The weathering limit declines in altitude along former ice flow-lines and is confluent with morainic deposits on the eastern side of the Gap of Dunloe and on the western slopes of Skregbeg. This evidence supports the assertion that the high-level weathering limit is a periglacial trimline that marks the former maximum upper limit of the body of ice, which occupied this area of southwest Ireland during the LGM. This evidence, however, does not confute the notion that cold based, non-erosive plateau ice may have covered some or all of the upland surfaces that occur above the recorded weathering limits. Reconstruction of the former ice surface profile from periglacial trimline limits along three former flow lines yielded mean estimates for basal shear stress that ranged from 104.2 to 125.9 kPa. Although these values are high, they are within the range deemed normal for glaciers and ice sheets. The values suggest that the reconstructed areas of the ice cap were warm based and flowing on a bedrock substrate. This is supported by the geomorphological evidence of these areas, which shows that a landform – sediment association has developed consisting of zones of glacial scour and a thin, discontinuous drift cover. This contrasts with the glacial geomorphology of northern parts of the study area, where drift cover is largely continuous, and extensive in valley bottoms and on surrounding hillsides, and is associated with large lateral moraines.