Theoretical framework and diagnostic criteria for the identification of palaeo-subglacial lakes

Stephen J. Livingstone*, Chris D. Clark, Jan A. Piotrowski, Martyn Tranter, Michael J. Bentley, Andy Hodson, Darrel A. Swift, John Woodward

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)


The Antarctic Ice Sheet is underlain by numerous subglacial lakes, which comprise a significant and active component of its hydrological network. These lakes are widespread and occur at a range of scales under a variety of conditions. At present much glaciological research is concerned with the role of modern subglacial lake systems in Antarctica. Another approach to the exploration of subglacial lakes involves identification of the geological record of subglacial lakes that once existed beneath former ice sheets. This is challenging, both conceptually, in identifying whether and where subglacial lakes may have formed, and also distinguishing the signature of former subglacial lakes in the geological record. In this work we provide a synthesis of subglacial lake types that have been identified or may theoretically exist beneath contemporary or palaeo-ice sheets. This includes a discussion of the formative mechanisms that could trigger onset of (or drain) subglacial lakes. These concepts provide a framework for discussing the probability that subglacial lakes exist(ed) beneath other (palaeo-)ice sheets. Indeed we conclude that the former mid-latitude ice sheets are likely to have hosted subglacial lakes, although the spatial distribution, frequency and type of lakes may have differed from today's ice sheets and between palaeo-ice sheets. Given this possibility, we propose diagnostic criteria for identifying palaeo-subglacial lakes in the geological record. These criteria are derived from contemporary observations, hydrological theory and process-analogues and provide an observational template for detailed field investigations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)88-110
Number of pages23
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
Issue numberC
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2012


  • Ice sheet
  • Palaeo-subglacial lake
  • Subglacial geomorphology
  • Subglacial hydrology
  • Subglacial lake
  • Subglacial sedimentology


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