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Durham University

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Publication details for Professor Chris Stokes

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

Author(s) from Durham


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.