Understanding the recessional behaviour of ancient pre-Cenozoic ice sheets based on seismic reflection studies is generally difficult through scarcity of data. In North Africa, however, hydrocarbon exploration has produced high quality seismic reflection datasets that permit an analysis of the morphology and internal sedimentary architecture of incisions of Late Ordovician age related to the Hirnantian glaciation. Analysis of a high-resolution 3-D seismic dataset covering a small area in western Libya (the N Murzuq Basin) reveals a sharply defined, WNW–ESE-oriented palaeo-escarpment, with a higher (cliff-forming) western margin and a lower (basin-forming) eastern margin. The palaeo-escarpment defines the western flank of a sub-basin extending up to 60 km in width, known as the Awbari Trough. The escarpment and the trough are interpreted as the morphological expression of a major unconformity dividing pre-glacial sediments below from Late Ordovician (?Hirnantian) glacially related sediments above. Two hypotheses are considered for the origins of both the escarpment and the Awbari Trough: (1) as a tectonic feature such as a half graben that was active during sedimentation and (2) a glacially related palaeotopography, with the latter interpretation preferred, owing to the lack of evidence for syn-sedimentary fault activity. The width of the Awbari Trough compares to the large-scale cross-shelf troughs in modern high latitude settings, such as the Barents Shelf, produced by ice streams. The Awbari Trough was progressively filled in by gravity flow deposits throughout the course of the glaciation, until the initial incision became filled in with sediments during an overall glacial retreat phase and ceased to influence sedimentation patterns. Glacial re-advance across the basin produced a second unconformity observed in seismic data. Above this unconformity, meltwater processes incised a shallow (~ 20 m) and wide (~ 5 km) subglacial tunnel valley. Stabilization of the ice front prior to its ultimate retreat resulted in the deposition of a delta complex prior to the Early Silurian transgression.

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