Blue-ice moraines formation in the Heritage Range, West Antarctica: implications for ice sheet history and climate reconstruction

John Woodward, Andy Hein, Kate Winter, Matthew J. Westoby, Shasta Marrero, Stuart A. Dunning, Michael Lim, Andrés Rivera, David Sugden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Blue ice is found in areas of Antarctica where katabatic winds, focussed by steep surface slopes or by topography around nunataks, cause enhanced surface ablation. This process draws up deeper, older ice to the ice sheet surface, often bringing with it englacial sediment. Prevailing theories for dynamically stable moraine surfaces in East Antarctica suggest that: (i) it is this material, once concentrated, that forms blue-ice moraines (BIM), (ii) that the moraine formation can be dated using cosmogenic isotope approaches, and that, (iii) since we expect an increase in exposure age moving away from the ice margin towards bedrock, dating across the moraine can be used to constrain ice-sheet history. To test this lateral accretion model for BIM formation we visited Patriot, Marble and Independence Hills in the southern Heritage Range, West Antarctica. Detailed field surveys of surface form, sediment and moraine dynamics were combined with geophysical surveys of the englacial structure of the moraines and cosmogenic nuclide analysis of surface clasts. Results suggest sediment is supplied mainly by basal entrainment, supplemented by debris-covered valley glaciers transferring material onto the ice sheet surface, direct deposition from rock-fall and slope processes from nunataks. We find that once sediment coalesces in BIM, significant reworking occurs through differential ablation, slope and periglacial processes. We bring these processes together in a conceptual model, concluding that many BIM in West Antarctica are dynamic and, whilst they persist through glacial cycles, they do not always neatly record ice sheet retreat patterns since linear distance from the ice margin does not always relate to increased clast exposure age. Understanding the dynamic processes involved in moraine formation is critical to the effective interpretation of the typically large scatter of cosmogenic nuclide exposure ages, opening a deep window into the million-year history of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.
Original languageEnglish
Article number100051
JournalQuaternary Science Advances
Early online date28 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2022

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Blue ice moraine
  • Cosmogenic nuclide dating
  • Geophysical surveys
  • Ice sheet history
  • West Antarctic ice sheet


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