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Ice streams in the Laurentide Ice Sheet: identification, characteristics and comparison to modern ice sheets

Margold, M.; Stokes, C.R.; Clark, C.D.

Ice streams in the Laurentide Ice Sheet: identification, characteristics and comparison to modern ice sheets Thumbnail


M. Margold

C.D. Clark


This paper presents a comprehensive review and synthesis of ice streams in the Laurentide Ice Sheet (LIS) based on a new mapping inventory that includes previously hypothesised ice streams and includes a concerted effort to search for others from across the entire ice sheet bed. The inventory includes 117 ice streams, which have been identified based on a variety of evidence including their bedform imprint, large-scale geomorphology/topography, till properties, and ice rafted debris in ocean sediment records. Despite uncertainty in identifying ice streams in hard bedrock areas, it is unlikely that any major ice streams have been missed. During the Last Glacial Maximum, Laurentide ice streams formed a drainage pattern that bears close resemblance to the present day velocity patterns in modern ice sheets. Large ice streams had extensive onset zones and were fed by multiple tributaries and, where ice drained through regions of high relief, the spacing of ice streams shows a degree of spatial self-organisation which has hitherto not been recognised. Topography exerted a primary control on the location of ice streams, but there were large areas along the western and southern margin of the ice sheet where the bed was composed of weaker sedimentary bedrock, and where networks of ice streams switched direction repeatedly and probably over short time scales. As the ice sheet retreated onto its low relief interior, several ice streams show no correspondence with topography or underlying geology, perhaps facilitated by localised build-up of pressurised subglacial meltwater. They differed from most other ice stream tracks in having much lower length-to-width ratios and have no modern analogues. There have been very few attempts to date the initiation and cessation of ice streams, but it is clear that ice streams switched on and off during deglaciation, rather than maintaining the same trajectory as the ice margin retreated. We provide a first order estimate of changes in ice stream activity during deglaciation and show that around 30% of the margin was drained by ice streams at the LGM (similar to that for present day Antarctic ice sheets), but this decreases to 15% and 12% at 12 cal ka BP and 10 cal ka BP, respectively. The extent to which these changes in the ice stream drainage network represent a simple and predictable readjustment to a changing mass balance driven by climate, or internal ice dynamical feedbacks unrelated to climate (or both) is largely unknown and represents a key area for future work to address.


Margold, M., Stokes, C., & Clark, C. (2015). Ice streams in the Laurentide Ice Sheet: identification, characteristics and comparison to modern ice sheets. Earth-Science Reviews, 143, 117-146.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jan 23, 2015
Online Publication Date Feb 7, 2015
Publication Date Apr 7, 2015
Deposit Date Feb 6, 2015
Publicly Available Date Feb 9, 2015
Journal Earth-Science Reviews
Print ISSN 0012-8252
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 143
Pages 117-146
Keywords Ice streams, Laurentide Ice Sheet, Glacial landform record, Deglaciation, Ice sheet dynamics, Ice velocity pattern.


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