The Late Devensian (<22,000 BP) Irish Sea Basin: The sedimentary record of a collapsed ice sheet margin
The Late Devensian (<20 ka BP) glacial geology of the Irish Sea Basin (4000 km 2) is an event stratigraphy recording the entry of marine waters into a glacio-isostatically-depressed basin, and the rapid retreat of the Irish Sea Glacier as a tidewater ice margin. Marine limits occur up to 140 m O.D. Across much of the central basin, the ice margin was uncoupled from its bed exposing a subglacially-scoured topography to glaciomarine processes. The Irish Sea Glacier was a major drainage conduit of the last British Ice Sheet; calving of the marine ice margin resulted in fast flow (surging) of ice streams recorded by drumlin fields around the northern basin margin and tunnel valleys. Rapid evacuation of the basin may have stranded large areas of dead ice in peripheral zones (e.g. Cheshire/Shropshire Lowlands) and initiated the collapse of the ice sheet. Thick wedges of ice-contact glaciomarine sediments were deposited during ice retreat as morainal bank complexes by successive tidewater ice margins stabilized at pinning points around the Irish Sea coast. Where morainal banks occur on the seaward side of drumlin swarms there is a clear sequential relationship between rapid ice loss from calving ice margins, the development of fast flowing ice streams, drumlinization and the pumping of subglacial sediment to tidewater. Raised delta complexes are locally associated with marine limits along the high relief coastal margins of Wales, east central Ireland, and the Lake District. Associated valley infill complexes record downslope resedimentation of heterogenous sediments into the marine environment during ice retreat. Co-eval offshore deposits are represented by well-stratified glaciomarine complexes that infill a subglacially-scoured topography that shows networks of tunnel valleys. Glaciomarine mud drapes occur well to the south of the maximum limit of grounded ice in the basin (e.g. North Devon, Scilly Islands, Southern Ireland). The age of these distal sediments, previously mapped as pre-Devensian tills, is constrained by amino acid ratios. Basin rebound following deglaciation was rapid, with over 100 m recovery in 3 ka, and was followed by a low marine still stand. Peat, accumulating in offshore areas now as much as 55 m below sea level has been drowned by the postglacial eustatic rise in sea level. The glacio-sedimentary model identified in this paper, involving rapid ice retreat and related sedimentation triggered by rising relative sea level, suggests that isotatic downwarping is an important mechanism for deglaciating continental shelves.