Dynamic landscape changes in Glen Roy and vicinity, west Highland Scotland, during the Younger Dryas and early Holocene: a synthesis

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This paper introduces a special issue devoted to the sequence of events in and around Glen Roy during the Loch Lomond or Younger Dryas Stadial, the short but important cold period dated to between 12,900 and 11,700 years ago, during which glaciers last expanded to occupy the Scottish Highlands, and during the subsequent transition to warmer conditions at the start of the Holocene. The Glen Roy area is internationally famous for the ‘Parallel Roads’, pre-eminent examples of ice-dammed lake shorelines which were formed during the stadial. What makes these shorelines unique, however, is their role as distinctive time markers, allowing the order of formation of landforms and sediments to be construed with unprecedented detail. Varved lake sediments preserved within Glen Roy and nearby Loch Laggan provide a precise timescale – the Lochaber Master Varve Chronology (LMVC) – for establishing the rates and timing of some of the events. This introductory paper first sets the geological context for those new to this topic, with a digest of key advances in understanding made between the nineteenth century and the publication of the LMVC in 2010. It then summarises the evidence and ideas that have emerged from new research investigations reported in this special issue for the first time, and which shine new light on the subject. Two final sections synthesise the new data and consider future prospects for further refinement of the precise sequence and timing of events. A major conclusion to emerge from this new body of work is that the ice-dammed lakes, and the glaciers that impounded them, persisted in the area until around 11,700 to perhaps 11,600 years ago. This conflicts with recently promoted suggestions that the last glaciers in Scotland were already in a state of considerable decline by 12,500 years ago.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2–25
Number of pages24
JournalProceedings of the Geologists' Association
Issue number1
Early online date8 Feb 2017
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2017


  • Younger Dryas Glen Roy Ice-dammed lakes Varves Glaciofluvial sediments Tephra layers Rapid climate change

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