Quaternary evolution of glaciated gneiss terrains: Pre-glacial weathering vs. glacial erosion



Krabbendam M & Bradwell T (2014) Quaternary evolution of glaciated gneiss terrains: Pre-glacial weathering vs. glacial erosion. Quaternary Science Reviews, 95, pp. 20-42.;

Vast areas previously covered by Pleistocene ice sheets consist of rugged bedrock-dominated terrain of innumerable knolls and lake-filled rock basins – the ‘cnoc-and-lochan’ landscape or ‘landscape of areal scour’. These landscapes typically form on gneissose or granitic lithologies and are interpreted (1) either to be the result of strong and widespread glacial erosion over numerous glacial cycles; or (2) formed by stripping of a saprolitic weathering mantle from an older, deeply weathered landscape.  We analyse bedrock structure, erosional landforms and weathering remnants and within the ‘cnoc-and-lochan’ gneiss terrain of a rough peneplain in NW Scotland and compare this with a geomorphologically similar gneiss terrain in a non-glacial, arid setting (Namaqualand, South Africa). We find that the topography of the gneiss landscapes in NW Scotland and Namaqualand closely follows the old bedrock—saprolite contact (weathering front). The roughness of the weathering front is caused by deep fracture zones providing a highly irregular surface area for weathering to proceed. The weathering front represents a significant change in bedrock physical properties. Glacial erosion (and aeolian erosion in Namaqualand) is an efficient way of stripping saprolite, but is far less effective in eroding hard, unweathered bedrock. Significant glacial erosion of hard gneiss probably only occurs beneath palaeo-ice streams.  We conclude that the rough topography of glaciated ‘cnoc-and-lochan’ gneiss terrains is formed by a multistage process:  1) Long-term, pre-glacial chemical weathering, forming deep saprolite with an irregular weathering front;  2) Stripping of weak saprolite by glacial erosion during the first glaciation(s), resulting in a rough land surface, broadly conforming to the pre-existing weathering front (‘etch surface’);  3) Further modification of exposed hard bedrock by glacial erosion. In most areas, glacial erosion is limited, but can be significant beneath palaeo-ice stream. The roughness of glaciated gneiss terrains is crucial for modelling of the glacial dynamics of present-day ice sheets. This roughness is shown here to depend on the intensity of pre-glacial weathering as well as glacial erosion during successive glaciations. Full text available from:

Weathering; Glacial erosion; Shield terrain; Subglacial roughness; Fracture zone; Saprolite; Joint

Quaternary Science Reviews: Volume 95

Publication date31/07/2014
Publication date online20/05/2014
Date accepted by journal13/03/2014
Publisher URL

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Dr Tom Bradwell

Dr Tom Bradwell

Senior Lecturer, Biological and Environmental Sciences