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Durham University

Department of Geography

Departmental Research Projects

Publication details

Evans, David J.A., Atkinson, Nigel & Phillips, Emrys Glacial geomorphology of the Neutral Hills Uplands, southeast Alberta, Canada: The process-form imprints of dynamic ice streams and surging ice lobes. Geomorphology. 2020;350:106910.

Author(s) from Durham

Abstract

The Neutral Hills Uplands of southern Alberta, Canada is an area of complex and varied glacial landforms dominated by glacitectonic compressional structures but also containing expansive areas of hummocky terrain and kame and kettle topography. It lies between the strongly streamlined trunks of the former Central Alberta (CAIS) and Maskwa palaeo-ice streams of the SW Laurentide Ice Sheet (LIS) and hence comprises an inter-ice stream regional moraine zone, constructed at around 15.5 cal ka BP. This study aimed to compile a regional map of the glacial geomorphology of central southeast Alberta in order to decipher the landform-sediment signatures of overprinted ice stream margins in terrestrial continental environments, and to refine the palaeoglaciological reconstructions for the southwest LIS. Detailed mapping from LiDAR and aerial imagery identifies distinctive glacial landsystems diagnostic of the partial overprinting of cross-cutting ice stream trunks and fast flow lobes. Widespread evidence of surge-diagnostic features indicates that the ice streams experienced repeated flow instabilities, consistent with the broader scenario of a highly dynamic and unstable SW LIS, characterised by markedly transitory and cross-cutting palaeo-ice streams. The inter-ice stream moraine zone is characterised by spectacular glacitectonic compression of bedrock, cupola hill construction and mega raft displacement but also displays evidence of multi-phase stagnant ice melt-out, where partially overprinted surge lobes advanced into large areas of buried glacier ice. Contemporaneous ice melting led to the widespread development of glacier karst and the production of eskers at a range of scales, the largest of which record deranged drainage patterns indicative of ice-walled channel sedimentation controlled by the regional bedrock slope towards the northeast. These process-form regimes have created a significant local relief that is a product of not only glacitectonic compression of bedrock but also the creation and melting of a melange of ice and bedrock/sediment blocks of variable ice volume, which are representative of former buried snout ice with a glacier karst system that was repeatedly proglacially thrust due to surging. Widespread evidence for subglacial channel cutting is likely strongly linked to the transitory, surging and cross-cutting nature of the palaeo-ice streams in the region, whereby ice streams switched on and surged in response to the build-up, migration and marginal outbursts of subglacial water reservoirs. In addition to the reduced basal friction caused by the low permeability of the Cretaceous bedrock, pressurized groundwater and potentially also shallow biogenic gas deposits were likely important to the process-form regimes of surging lobes of soft-bedded ice streams in a region where ice flow was against an adverse bed slope; a scenario that gave rise to a variety of enigmatic landforms such as doughnuts, doughnut chains, apparent blow-out features and possible till eskers, as well as glacitectonic mega-rafts.

Department of Geography