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Glacial landscapes

The Cairngorms is an area of outstanding importance for its glacial landforms (Gordon, 1993). Over the last 2.5 million years the Cairngorms has supported glaciers for long periods. These ice sheets, ice caps and mountain glaciers have profoundly modified the terrain. The Cairngorms is the type area for landscapes of selective linear glacial erosion. It includes many fine examples of landforms of glacial erosion, including troughs and breaches and roches moutonnées. Glacial moraines, still little studied, occur in many corries and glens. Meltwater has been a significant agent in the shaping of the detail of the landscape, forming channels and depositional features, such as eskers and kames.

The mountains are also proving to be of unusual interest in the reconstruction of the last ice sheet in northeast Scotland. The Ben Avon range seems to have been ice-free relatively early and so the thinning of the ice can be traced across the mountains, linking ice masses sourced in the Cairngorms with those found in Strath Spey and the valley of the Dee.

Conventionally, glacial landforms are classified according to

  • origin, either formed by ice (glacial) or meltwater (glacifluvial)
  • origin, either products of erosion or deposition
  • position relative to the former ice, whether subglacial, englacial, supraglacial or ice marginal or in front of the ice (proglacial).

Strath Nethy, looking towards Stac na h-Iolaire (R). Trimlines, moraines, delta kames and meltwater channels - features formed when Strathspey ice overtopped the ridge and interacted with thinner ice in Strath Nethy.