Retreat pattern of the Cordilleran Ice Sheet in central British Columbia at the end of the last glaciation reconstructed from glacial meltwater landforms



The Cordilleran Ice Sheet (CIS) covered much of the mountainous northwestern part of North America at least several times during the Pleistocene. The pattern and timing of its growth and decay are, however, poorly understood. Here, we present a reconstruction of the pattern of ice-sheet retreat in central British Columbia at the end of the last glaciation based on a palaeoglaciological interpretation of ice-marginal meltwater channels, eskers and deltas mapped from satellite imagery and digital elevation models. A consistent spatial pattern of high-elevation (1600–2400 m a.s.l.), ice-marginal meltwater channels is evident across central British Columbia. These landforms indicate the presence of ice domes over the Skeena Mountains and the central Coast Mountains early during deglaciation. Ice sourced in the Coast Mountains remained dominant over the southern and east-central parts of the Interior Plateau during deglaciation. Our reconstruction shows a successive westward retreat of the ice margin from the western foot of the Rocky Mountains, accompanied by the formation and rapid evolution of a glacial lake in the upper Fraser River basin. The final stage of deglaciation is characterized by the frontal retreat of ice lobes through the valleys of the Skeena and Omineca Mountains and by the formation of large esker systems in the most prominent topographic lows of the Interior Plateau. We conclude that the CIS underwent a large-scale reconfiguration early during deglaciation and was subsequently diminished by thinning and complex frontal retreat towards the Coast Mountains.