Digital landscapes of deglaciation: identifying Late Quaternary glacial lake outburst floods using LiDAR

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High resolution DEMs obtained from LiDAR topographic data have led to improved landform inventories (e.g. landslides and fault scarps) and understanding of geomorphic event frequency. Here we use airborne LiDAR mapping to investigate meltwater pathways associated with the Tweed Valley palaeo ice-stream (UK). In particular we focus on a gorge downstream of Palaeolake Milfield, previously mapped as a sub-glacial meltwater channel, where the identification of abandoned headcut channels, run-up bars, rock-cut terrace surfaces and eddy flow features attest to formation by a sub-aerial glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF) caused by breaching of a sediment dam, likely an esker ridge. Mapping of these landforms combined with analysis of the gorge rim elevations and cross-section variability revealed a two phase event with another breach site downstream following flow blockage by high relief drumlin topography. We estimate the magnitude of peak flow to be 1–3 x 103 m3/s, duration of the event to range from 16–155 days, and a specific sediment yield of 107-109 m3/km2/yr. We identified other outburst pathways in the lower Tweed basin that help delineate an ice margin position of the retreating Tweed Valley ice stream. The results suggest that low magnitude outburst floods are under-represented in Quaternary geomorphological maps. We therefore recommend regional LiDAR mapping of meltwater pathways to identify other GLOFs in order to better quantify the pattern of freshwater and sediment fluxes from melting ice sheets to oceans. Despite the relatively low magnitude of the Till outburst event, it had a significant impact on the landscape development of the lower Tweed Valley through the creation of a new tributary pathway and triggering of rapid knickpoint retreat encouraging new regional models of post-glacial fluvial landscape response.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)291–307
Number of pages17
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
Issue number3
Early online date30 Jun 2015
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2016

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