Catastrophic releases of meltwater, produced by basal melting and stored for decades in subglacial reservoirs at high pressure, may have been responsible for eroding the broad, deep tunnel valleys that are common along the margins of some lobes of the southern Laurentide ice sheet. We surmise that these releases began when the high water pressure was transmitted to the margin through the substrate. The water pressure in the substrate at the margin would then have been significantly above the overburden pressure, leading to sapping failure. Headward erosion of a conduit in the substrate (piping) could then tap the stored water, resulting in the outburst. In some situations, development of a siphon may have lowered the reservoir below its overflow level, thus tapping additional water. Following the flood, the seal could have reformed and the reservoir refilled, setting up conditions for another outburst. Order of magnitude calculations suggest that once emptied, a subglacial reservoir could refill in a matter of decades. The amount of water released during several outbursts appears to be sufficient to erode a tunnel valley. We think that tunnel valleys are most likely to have formed in this way where and when the glacier margin was frozen to the bed and permafrost extended from the glacier forefield several kilometers back under the glacier, as reservoirs would then have been larger and more common, and the seal more robust and more likely to reform after an outburst. ?? 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Additional publication details
On the formation of the tunnel valleys of the southern Laurentide ice sheet