Quantifying subglacial bed roughness in Antarctica: implications for ice-sheet dynamics and history

Robert G Bingham, Martin J Siegert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Citations (Scopus)


Glaciated landscapes consist of complex assemblages of landforms resulting from ice flow dynamic regimes and ice-sheet history, superimposed over, and in turn modifying, preglacial topography, lithology and geological structure. Insights into the formation of glaciated landscapes can, in principle, be obtained by analysing modern ice-sheet beds, but terrain analyses beneath modern ice sheets are restricted by the inaccessibility of the bed. It is, however, possible to quantify roughness, the vertical variation of the subglacial interface with horizontal distance, along two-dimensional images of the bed obtained from radio-echo sounding (RES). Here we collate several case studies from Antarctica, where roughness calculations have been used as a glaciological tool to infer basal processes and ice-sheet history over large (>500 km2) areas. We present two examples from West Antarctica, which demonstrate the utility of bed roughness in determining the presence and extent of subglacial sediments, glacial dynamics and former ice-sheet size. We also present two examples from East Antarctica, which illustrate how roughness provides knowledge of ice-sheet dynamics in the interior and pre-Quaternary ice-sheet histories. In modern ice-sheet settings, characterising bed roughness along RES tracks has the twin advantages of being relatively simple to calculate while producing informative subsurface data, and is especially powerful at furthering understanding when coupled with knowledge of ice flow from field, satellite and modelling investigations. The technique also offers significant potential for the comparison of modern and former ice-sheet terrains, contributing to an improved understanding of the formation and evolution of glaciated landscapes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)223-236
Number of pages14
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2009


  • glaciology
  • cryosphere
  • Antarctica
  • radar
  • roughness


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