Using high-resolution bathymetric and shallow seismic data from the North Sea, we have mapped hitherto unknown glacial landforms that connect and resolve longstanding gaps in the Quaternary geological history of the basin. We use these data combined with published information and dates from sediment cores to reconstruct the extent of the Fennoscandian and British Ice Sheets (FIS and BIS) in the North Sea during the last phases of the last glacial stage. It is concluded that the BIS occupied a much larger part of the North Sea than previously suggested and that North Sea ice underwent a dramatic disintegration ∼18,500 yr ago. This was triggered by grounding-line retreat of the Norwegian Channel Ice Stream, which debuttressed adjacent ice masses, and led to an unzipping of the BIS and FIS accompanied by drainage of a large ice-dammed lake. Our reconstruction of events provides an opportunity to improve understanding and modeling of the disintegration of marine-based ice sheets, and the complex interplay between ocean circulation and the cryosphere.
- Received 5 January 2016.
- Revision received 11 March 2016.
- Accepted 11 March 2016.
- © Geological Society of America