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Durham University

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Terrestrial Record of Former Arctic Ice Streams: Elucidating the Controls on Ice Stream Location and Vigour, The

A research project of the Department of Geography.


Ice streams are large, rapidly-flowing (100-1000's metres per year) corridors of ice embedded within a relatively slow-flowing (10's of metres per year) ice sheet. Their location and vigour exert a considerable control on the configuration and stability of continental ice sheets. Elucidating the controls on their behaviour is of paramount importance if we are to understand the ice sheet-ocean-atmosphere interactions of the past and predict the response of contemporary ice sheets to future climate change. However, we are still unclear as to what mechanisms facilitate their rapid velocity, and what influences their overall location within an ice sheet.

Whilst of great value, current research on contemporary ice streams (e.g. in West Antarctica) is fundamentally inhibited by the fact that we cannot easily access and observe the conditions at the bed of the ice streams, beneath the ice. This innovative programme of research will overcome the problem by identifying and investigating the now-exposed beds of ice streams that operated in the former North American (Laurentide) Ice Sheet during the last major glaciation. Utilising the large-scale view afforded by satellite imagery and aerial photography, the overall objective is to map and characterise the glacial geomorphology, sediment characteristics and topography from three former ice stream beds in order to glean valuable information concerning the (topographic? geological?) controls on their location, flow mechanisms and vigour.


Stokes, C.R., Clark, C.D. Winsborrow, M.C.M. (2006) Subglacial bedform evidence for a major palaeo-ice stream and its retreat phases in Amundsen Gulf, Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Journal of Quaternary Science, 21 (4), 399-412.

Stokes, C.R., Clark, C.D., Darby, D. A. and Hodgson, D. (2005) Late Pleistocene ice export events into the Arctic Ocean from the M’Clure Strait Ice Stream, Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Global and Planetary Change, 49, 139-162.

Stokes, C.R. and Clark, C.D. (2004) Evolution of Late Glacial ice-marginal lakes on the north-western Canadian Shield and their influence on the location of the Dubawnt Lake palaeo-ice stream. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, v. 215, no. 1/2, p. 155-171. doi:10.1016/j.palaeo.2004.09.006.

Stokes, C.R. and Clark, C.D. (2003) The Dubawnt Lake palaeo-ice stream: evidence for dynamic ice sheet behaviour on the Canadian Shield and insights regarding the controls on ice stream location and vigour. Boreas, 32, 263-279.

Stokes, C.R. and Clark, C.D. (2003) Laurentide ice streaming over the Canadian Shield: a conflict with the ‘soft-bedded’ ice stream paradigm? Geology, 31 (4), 437-350.

External Collaborators

  • Professor Chris Clark (University of Sheffield, UK)


From the Department of Geography