Development of sediment–landform associations at cold glacier margins, Dry Valleys, Antarctica

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Abstract

The impact of modern cold glaciers on arid periglacial landscapes has received little attention compared with other glacial regimes, and there is a widely held assumption that cold glaciers are not effective geomorphological agents, despite recent studies to the contrary. This paper focuses on the processes operating at the margins of a number of glaciers in the Dry Valleys of Victoria Land, notably the Wright Lower Glacier. The glaciers are entraining primarily older drift deposits and highly weathered regolith which texturally are sandy gravels, as well as well-sorted sands of fluvial origin. Despite basal temperatures of the order of −16°C, frozen layers and blocks of sand and gravel are being incorporated into the base of the glaciers by folding and thrusting. The sedimentary products are ridges and aprons several metres high within which the principal lithofacies are sand, gravel, foliated glacier ice, lake ice and snow. These facies are glaciotectonized strongly. Draped over these landforms is a veneer of well-sorted aeolian sand up to half a metre thick. Supraglacial streams flowing off the glaciers incise these landforms and the sediment is redeposited as alluvial fans, lake deltas and lake-bottomset deposits. Overall the sediment/landform association differs markedly from those of other glacial regimes, with sand and gravel being the dominant facies, while the usual indicators of glacier working (such as facets and striations on clasts) are lacking. The preservation potential for these landforms on a thousand-year time scale is high, as modification in this arid regime by slope processes and running water is limited. Sublimation of buried ice is so slow that ridge features are likely to remain ice-cored almost indefinitely, modified only by wind transport and weathering.

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