The Eurasian ice sheet extended across the Barents and Kara Seas during the late Quaternary, yet evidence on past ice dynamics and thermal structure across its huge eastern periphery remains largely unknown. Here we use three-dimensional seismic data sets covering ~4500 km2 of the Kara Sea west of Yamal Peninsula, Siberia (71°–73°N), to identify, for the first time in the Russian Arctic seas, several buried generations of vast subglacial tunnel valley networks. Individual valleys are up to 50 km long and are incised as much as 400 m deep; among the largest tunnel valleys ever reported. This discovery represents the first documentation of an extensively warm-based eastern margin of the Eurasian ice sheet during the Quaternary glaciations. The presence of major subglacial channel networks on the shallow shelf, with no evidence of ice streaming, suggests that significant meltwater discharge and subsequent freshwater forcing of ocean circulation may be long-lived rather than catastrophic, occurring during the latest stages of deglaciation in areas where the ice sheet flows slowly and is grounded largely above sea level. Furthermore, the first account of an extensive hydrological network across large areas of the Kara Sea provides important empirical evidence for active subglacial hydrological processes that should be considered in future numerical modeling of the eastern margin of the Quaternary Eurasian ice sheet.

This content is PDF only. Please click on the PDF icon to access.
You do not currently have access to this article.