The extreme yet transient nature of glacial erosion

H. Patton, A. Hubbard, J. Heyman, N. Alexandropoulou, A. P. E. Lasabuda, A. P. Stroeven, A. M. Hall, M. Winsborrow, D. E. Sugden, J. Kleman, K. Andreassen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Ice can sculpt extraordinary landscapes, yet the efficacy of, and controls governing, glacial erosion on geological timescales remain poorly understood and contended, particularly across Polar continental shields. Here, we assimilate geophysical data with modelling of the Eurasian Ice Sheet — the third largest Quaternary ice mass that spanned 49°N to 82°N — to decipher its erosional footprint during the entire last ~100 ka glacial cycle. Our results demonstrate extreme spatial and temporal heterogeneity in subglacial erosion, with rates ranging from 0 to 5 mm a−1 and a net volume equating to ~130,000 km3 of bedrock excavated to depths of ~190 m. A hierarchy of environmental controls ostensibly underpins this complex signature: lithology, topography and climate, though it is basal thermodynamics that ultimately regulates erosion, which can be variously protective, pervasive, or, highly selective. Our analysis highlights the remarkable yet fickle nature of glacial erosion — critically modulated by transient ice-sheet dynamics — with its capacity to impart a profound but piecemeal geological legacy across mid- and high latitudes.
Original languageEnglish
Article number7377
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2022


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