Switching of a paleo-ice stream in northwest Svalbard

S Sarkar, C Berndt, A Chabert, DG Masson, TA Minshull, Graham Westbrook

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

28 Citations (Scopus)


Ice streams are the fast-flowing zones of ice sheets that can discharge a large flux of ice. The glaciated western Svalbard margin consists of several cross-shelf troughs which are the former ice stream drainage pathways during the Pliocene-Pleistocene glaciations. From an integrated analysis of high-resolution multibeam swath-bathymetric data and several high-resolution two-dimensional reflection seismic profiles across the western and northwestern Svalbard margin we infer the ice stream flow directions and the deposition centres of glacial debris that the ice streams deposited on the outer margin. Our results show that the northwestern margin of Svalbard experienced a switching of a major ice stream. Based on correlation with the regional seismic stratigraphy as well as the results from ODP 911 on Yermak Plateau and ODP 986 farther south on the western margin of Spitsbergen, off Van Mijenfjord, we find that first a northwestward flowing ice stream developed during initial northern hemispheric cooling (starting similar to 2.8-2.6 Ma). A switch in ice stream flow direction to the present-day Kongsfjorden cross-shelf trough took place during a glaciation at similar to 1.5 Ma or probably later during an intensive major glaciation phase known as the 'Mid-Pleistocene Revolution' starting at similar to 1.0 Ma. The seismic and bathymetric data suggest that the switch was abrupt rather than gradual and we attribute it to the reaching of a tipping point when growth of the Svalbard ice sheet had reached a critical thickness and the ice sheet could overcome a topographic barrier. (C) 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1710-1725
Number of pages16
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
Issue number13-14
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2011


  • Swath-bathymetric data
  • Cross-shelf trough
  • Svalbard
  • Ice stream
  • High-resolution two-dimensional reflection seismic data


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