Abstract

Satellite imagery and data from ground surveys are used to reconstruct the integrated pattern of the principal longitudinal and transverse features produced on a continent-wide scale by the last ice sheets in Europe and North America. From modern analogues, it is argued that most longitudinal features reflect flow in the outer zone of the ice sheet, and that most major transverse features reflect relatively stable ice-sheet margins. These principles are tested and, using them alone, detailed patterns for the decay of the last ice sheets in North America, Europe and the British Isles are produced, and periods during which they attained near steady-states identified. These patterns can be calibrated by dated sequences to yield deglaciation isochrons. Application of glaciological models to these geological reconstructions generates detailed prediction of net ablation for the period of ice-sheet decay and, by using evidence of last glaciation stratigraphy, models of the dynamic behaviour of the ice sheets throughout the last glacial period are constructed. These enable volumetric changes, oceanic isotopic changes and erratic dispersal pathways to be reconstructed. Erratic dispersal patterns give a good indication of the long-term distribution of centres of ice sheet mass. Discrepancies between predicted and empirical oceanic isotopic records indicate ways in which the conventional continental timescale of glacial change must be altered to fit the better-dated deep ocean record. In addition discrepancies between predicted and empirical erratic dispersal patterns suggest that conventional views of ice-sheet behaviour based on high latitude models may be inappropriate to the dynamically more active mid-latitude ice sheets based in large part on deformable sediment beds.

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