Discriminating glacier thermal and dynamic regimes in the sedimentary record

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This paper provides a description and evaluation of the sedimentary facies and environments associated with a range of glacier thermal and dynamic regimes, with additional consideration given to the tectonic context. New and previously published data are evaluated together, and are presented from modern terrestrial and marine glacial sedimentary environments in order to identify a set of criteria that can be used to discriminate between different glacier thermal regimes and dynamic styles in the sedimentary record. Sedimentological data are presented from a total of 28 glaciers in 11 geographical areas that represent a wide range of contemporary thermal, dynamic and topographic regimes. In the context of “landsystems”, representatives from terrestrial environments include temperate glaciers in the European Alps, Patagonia, New Zealand, the Cordillera Blanca (Peru), cold glaciers in the Dry Valleys of Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula region, and polythermal valley glaciers in Svalbard, northern Sweden, the Yukon and the Khumbu Himal (Nepal). The glaciomarine environment is illustrated by data from cold and polythermal glacier margins on the East Antarctic continental shelf, and from a polythermal tidewater glacier in Svalbard, along with general observations from temperate glaciers in Alaska. These data show that temperate glacial systems, particularly in high-relief areas, are dominated by rockfall and avalanche processes, although sediments are largely reworked by glaciofluvial processes. Debris in polythermal glaciers is both thermally and topographically influenced. In areas of moderate relief, debris is mainly of basal glacial origin, and the resulting facies association is dominated by diamicton. In high-relief areas such as the Himalaya, the debris load in polythermal glaciers is dominated by rockfall and avalanche inputs, resulting in extensive accumulations of sandy boulder-gravel. Cold glaciers are dominated by basal debris-entrainment, but sediments are little modified from the source materials, which are typically sandy boulder-gravel from older till, and sand (from glaciofluvial, glaciolacustrine and aeolian sources). Similar facies associations, but with different facies geometry and thickness occur in equivalent glaciomarine settings. Application of these concepts can aid the interpretation of glacier thermal regime (and hence palaeoclimate) in Quaternary and ancient glacial systems.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-33
JournalSedimentary Geology
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2012


  • Glacial sediments
  • Thermal regime
  • Temperate glaciers
  • Polythermal glaciers
  • Cold glaciers
  • Clast shape


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