Flow-pattern evolution of the last British Ice Sheet

Anna L.C. Hughes, Chris D. Clark, Colm J. Jordan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We present a 10-stage reconstruction of the evolution in ice-flow patterns of the last British Ice Sheet from build-up to demise derived from geomorphological evidence. 100 flowsets identified in the subglacial bedform record (drumlins, mega-scale glacial lineations, and ribbed moraine) are combined with ancillary evidence (erratic-transport paths, absolute dates and a semi-independently reconstructed retreat pattern) to define flow patterns, ice divides and ice-sheet margins during build-up, maximum glaciation and retreat. Overprinting and cross-cutting of landform assemblages are used to define the relative chronology of flow patterns and a tentative absolute chronology is presented based on a collation of available dates for ice advance and retreat. The ice-flow configuration of the last British Ice Sheet was not static. Some ice divides were remarkably stable, persisting through multiple stages of the ice-sheet evolution, whereas others were transient features existing for a short time and/or shifting in position 10skm. The 10 reconstructed stages of ice-sheet geometry capture two main modes of operation; first as an integrated ice sheet with a broadly N-S orientated ice divide, and second as a multi-domed ice sheet orientated parallel with the shelf edge. A thick integrated ice sheet developed as ice expanded out of source areas in Scotland to envelop southerly ice caps in northern England and Wales, and connect with the Irish Ice Sheet to the west and the Scandinavian Ice Sheet across the North Sea. Following break-up of ice over the North Sea, ice streaming probably drove mass loss and ice-sheet thinning to create a more complex divide structure, where ice-flow patterns were largely controlled by the form of the underlying topography. Ice surface lowering occurred before separation of, and retreat to, multiple ice centres centred over high ground. We consider this 10-stage reconstruction of the evolution in ice-sheet configuration to be the simplest palaeo-glaciological interpretation of the flowsets identified from the geomorphological record and their relative timing. This empirically-based reconstruction of flow-pattern geometry provides a framework for more detailed local and regional studies and numerical modelling to provide robust explanations of the observed changes in ice-sheet structure in terms of climate and glacial dynamics. As a minimum, numerical model outputs should be able to reproduce the identified flowset patterns in space and satisfy their chronological order.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)148-168
Number of pages21
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2014


  • British ice sheet
  • Flowsets
  • Ice-flow patterns
  • Last glacial maximum
  • Subglacial bedforms


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