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Trough mouth fans (TMFs) are sediment depocentres that form along high-latitude continental margins at the mouths of some cross-shelf troughs. They reflect the dynamics of past ice sheets over multiple glacial cycles and processes operating on (formerly) glaciated continental shelves and slopes, such as erosion, reworking, transport and deposition. The similarities and differences in TMF morphology and formation processes in the Arctic and Antarctic regions remain poorly constrained. We analyse the dimensions and geometries of 15 TMFs from Arctic and Antarctic margins and the grain size distribution of 82 sediment cores centred on them. We compare the grain size composition of sub- and proglacial diamictons deposited on the shelves and glacigenic debris flows deposited on the adjacent TMFs and find a significant difference between Arctic and Antarctic margins. Antarctic margins show a coarser grain size composition for both glacigenic debris flows and shelf diamictons. This significant difference provides insight into high-latitude sediment input, transportation and glacial–interglacial regimes. We suggest that surface runoff and river discharge are responsible for enhanced fine-grained sediment input in the Arctic compared with the Antarctic.

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