Virtually no information is available on the response of land-terminating Antarctic Peninsula glaciers to climate change on a centennial timescale. This paper analyses the topography, geomorphology and sedimentology of prominent moraines on James Ross Island, Antarctica, to determine geometric changes and to interpret glacier behaviour. The moraines are very likely due to a late-Holocene phase of advance and featured (1) shearing and thrusting within the snout, (2) shearing and deformation of basal sediment, (3) more supraglacial debris than at present and (4) short distances of sediment transport. Retreat of similar to 100 m and thinning of 15-20 m has produced a loss of 0.1 km(3) of ice. The pattern of surface lowering is asymmetric. These geometrical changes are suggested most simply to be due to a net negative mass balance caused by a drier climate. Comparisons of the moraines with the current glaciological surface structure of the glaciers permits speculation of a transition from a polythermal to a cold-based thermal regime. Small land-terminating glaciers in the northern Antarctic Peninsula region could be cooling despite a warming climate.