Lateral plucking as a mechanism for elongate erosional glacial bedforms: Explaining megagrooves in Britain and Canada



Krabbendam M & Bradwell T (2011) Lateral plucking as a mechanism for elongate erosional glacial bedforms: Explaining megagrooves in Britain and Canada. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 36 (10), pp. 1335-1349.

Megagrooves are kilometre-scale linear topographic lows carved in bedrock, separated by ridges, typically in areas of largely devoid of till. They have been reported from several areas covered by Pleistocene glaciations, such as Canadian Northwest (NW) Territories, Michigan and NW Scotland. Here we report two previously undocumented megagroove fields from Ungava, Canada, and northern England, and present new analyses of the megagrooves from NW Scotland. This paper seeks to determine the nature of the lithological and structural controls on the occurrence and formation of megagrooves. Analysis of both geomorphological and bedrock properties shows that megagrooves are generally:  a. confined to well stratified or layered bedrock, such as (meta)sedimentary rocks with closely spaced joints, and tend not to occur on massive rocks such as gneiss or granite, or thick-bedded sedimentary rocks;  b. subparallel to palaeo-ice flow and the strike of the strata; and tend not to occur where palaeo-ice flow is at high angles to the strike of strata;  c. produced by significant glacial erosion by sustained unidirectional ice flow.  Detailed analysis of megagrooves in NW Scotland shows that neither glacio-fluvial erosion, nor differential abrasion was the dominant mechanism of formation. A mechanism, here termed ‘lateral plucking’, is suggested that involves block plucking on rock steps parallel to ice flow. Removal of joint-bounded blocks from such rock steps involves a component of rotation along a vertical axis. Block removal may be enhanced by a direct component of shear stress onto the vertical stoss sides. The lateral plucking mechanism results in horizontal erosion at right angles to the ice flow, and enhances the groove/ridge topography. Megagrooves are potentially useful as palaeo-ice flow indicators in areas devoid of till, and can thus complement the palaeo-ice stream datasets which are presently largely based on soft-sediment landform studies.

glacial erosion; megagroove; plucking;abrasion

Earth Surface Processes and Landforms: Volume 36, Issue 10

Publication date31/08/2011
Publication date online05/04/2011
Date accepted by journal14/02/2011

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Dr Tom Bradwell

Dr Tom Bradwell

Senior Lecturer, Biological and Environmental Sciences