DOI: 10.1002/esp.5693 ISSN:

Morphometric analysis of ice scour lakes in Iceland: A proxy for ice sheet dynamics

Halley M. Mastro, Sarah M. Principato, Ilana B. Sobel, Ívar Örn Benediktsson, Nína Aradóttir
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Geography, Planning and Development


Glacial erosion rates on the Iceland landscape throughout the Pleistocene are not well quantified. Ice scour lakes provide an opportunity to investigate glacial erosive activity and relative intensity because they commonly form in areas beneath ice sheets due to intense quarrying. This study evaluates ice scour lake morphology and density as a potential proxy for paleo‐ice flow direction and basal thermal regime for parts of the Iceland Ice Sheet. Using GIS analysis, properties of ice scour lakes are examined in regions that experienced different rates of ice flow during and following the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), as interpreted from streamlined subglacial landforms. The primary input datasets were topographic, hydrologic and bedrock data. Lake distribution and morphology were quantified for all natural lakes of Iceland (n = 30 169), with close examination of three 400 km2 sub‐regions in Vestfirðir (n = 904), Húnaflói (n = 69) and Bakkaheiði (n = 232). Lake distribution parameters include density, packing and centroid elevation. PolyMorph‐2D was used to quantify lake morphology including orientation, area and elongation ratio. Ice scour lake density, packing and elevation were all greatest on Vestfirðir. The high density and packing of lakes across Vestfirðir suggests unique ice dynamics relative to the other two sub‐regions, and multidirectional flow of lake axes supports the presence of an independent ice cap covering Vestfirðir. Differential intensity of glacial erosion interpreted from regions of high and low lake density on Bakkaheiði supports a proposed ice divide in Northeast Iceland. The orientation of lakes align with the flow directions of proposed LGM ice streams in Northern and Northeast Iceland. Ice scour lakes were most elongate on average on Bakkaheiði, which supports fast ice flow. Improving understanding of former ice sheet basal thermal regime and paleo‐ice flow velocity serves to inform modern controls on ice sheet stability and ice sheet basal processes.

More from our Archive