Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

Geomorphology under ice streams: moving from form to process

Stokes, C.R.

Geomorphology under ice streams: moving from form to process Thumbnail



Ice streams are integral components of an ice sheet's mass balance and directly impact on sea level. Their flow is governed by processes at the ice-bed interface which create landforms that, in turn, modulate ice stream dynamics through their influence on bed topography and basal shear stresses. Thus, ice stream geomorphology is critical to understanding and modelling ice streams and ice sheet dynamics. This paper reviews developments in our understanding of ice stream geomorphology from an historical perspective, with a focus on the extent to which studies of modern and palaeo-ice streams have converged to take us from a position of near-complete ignorance to a detailed understanding of their bed morphology. During the 1970s and 1980s, our knowledge was limited and largely gleaned from geophysical investigations of modern ice stream beds in Antarctica. Very few palaeo-ice streams had been identified with any confidence. During the 1990s, however, glacial geomorphologists began to recognise their distinctive geomorphology, which included distinct patterns of highly elongated mega-scale glacial lineations, ice stream shear margin moraines, and major sedimentary depocentres. However, studying relict features could say little about the time-scales over which this geomorphology evolved and under what glaciological conditions. This began to be addressed in the early 2000s, through continued efforts to scrutinise modern ice stream beds at higher resolution, but our current understanding of how landforms relate to processes remains subject to large uncertainties, particularly in relation to the mechanisms and time-scales of sediment erosion, transport and deposition, and how these lead to the growth and decay of subglacial bedforms. This represents the next key challenge and will require even closer cooperation between glaciology, glacial geomorphology, sedimentology, and numerical modelling, together with more sophisticated methods to quantify and analyse the anticipated growth of geomorphological data from beneath active ice streams.


Stokes, C. (2018). Geomorphology under ice streams: moving from form to process. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 43(1), 85-123.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Sep 7, 2017
Online Publication Date Nov 13, 2017
Publication Date Jan 1, 2018
Deposit Date Mar 27, 2017
Publicly Available Date Sep 19, 2017
Journal Earth Surface Processes and Landforms
Print ISSN 0197-9337
Electronic ISSN 1096-9837
Publisher British Society for Geomorphology
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 43
Issue 1
Pages 85-123


Accepted Journal Article (2.6 Mb)

Publisher Licence URL

Copyright Statement
© 2017 The Authors. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

You might also like

Downloadable Citations