Introduction to the Glacial Landsystems of the Younger Dryas glaciation of Britain

The Loch Lomond Stadial in Britain

Between 12,900 and 11,700 years ago, gradual warming of Britain’s climate was interrupted by a sudden period of renewed cooling. During this period, known as the Loch Lomond or Younger Dryas Stadial, glaciers regrew in many areas of upland Britain.

Evidence of these glaciers is preserved in a range of different glacial landsystems in Britain. Even though these glaciers have long since disappeared, by studying the landsystems they left behind, we can understand what processes operated in these glacial environments.

Glacial geomorphology in Scotland dating from the Younger Dryas. Credit: Bickerdike et al., 2018

Glacial Landsystems of the Younger Dryas glaciation of Britain

These landforms were organised into a series of different landsystems. The largest, thickest ice, associated with the main ice cap over Scotland, formed an ice cap landsystem. Ice flow here was not constrained by topography, and ice covered all but the very highest mountain summits.

The Plateau Icefield Landsystem was associated with smaller ice masses on upland plateaus, such as over the Monadhleith Mountains in Scotland (MN on the map below). Ice here was quite thick, but was constrained more by the underlying hills and valleys.

More mountainous, steep-sided terrain was associated with the Alpine Icefield landsystem. A good example of this was over the Isle of Mull. An example of this today is the North Patagonian Icefield.

Around the main icefields, in hollows or north-facing areas protected from the sun, smaller cirque glaciers formed. A good example of this cirque glacier landsystemis Snowdonia and around the fringes of the larger ice masses.

Younger Dryas cirque glaciers of Snowdonia.

The maps below show the locations of the different glacial landsystems across the UK.

Different glacial landsystems of the Younger Dryas glaciation of Scotland. From Bickerdike et al., 2018.
Glacial landsystems of the Younger Dryas glaciation of the Lake District and Snowdonia. From Bickerdike et al., 2018.

You can read these articles about each of these different landsystems.