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Abstract

Tunnel valleys are elongated incisions that are commonly interpreted as being the result of erosional processes by subglacial meltwater occurring under continental ice sheets. The abundance, size and the primarily coarse-grained infill of these features have made tunnel valleys important hydrocarbon and groundwater reservoirs. Although numerous tunnel valleys have been described over the last century, their formation and infill remain poorly understood. This review summarizes and discusses the current knowledge of tunnel valleys, providing an overview of the observations around the world. Morphological aspects that separate tunnel valleys from other landforms are discussed, as well as the wide variety of sedimentary environments found to contribute to the infilling of these features. The depth of the incision and the character of ice retreat significantly determine the final infill architecture. The formational hypotheses proposed in the literature are assessed to test their wider applicability to all other tunnel valleys in order to find a generic model that helps in the prediction of the morphology and infilling of both Pleistocene and pre-Pleistocene age. A quasi-steady-state model, with small meltwater outbursts that erode tunnel valleys near the ice margin, seems compatible with most of the known valleys. Other proposed models require specific geographical or climatic conditions.

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