Late-Holocene and Younger Dryas glaciers in the northern Cairngorm Mountains, Scotland

Martin Kirkbride (Lead / Corresponding author), Jez Everest, Doug Benn, Delia Gheorghiu, Alastair Dawson

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We present 17 cosmogenic 10Be ages of glacial deposits in Coire an Lochain (Cairngorm Mountains), which demonstrate that glacial and nival deposits cover a longer timescale than previously recognised. Five ages provide the first evidence of a late-Holocene glacier in the British Isles. A previously unidentified moraine ridge was deposited after c. 2.8 kyr and defines a small slab-like glacier with an equilibrium line altitude (ELA) at c. 1047 m. The late-Holocene glacier was characterised by rapid firnification and a dominance of sliding, enabling the glacier to construct moraine ridges in a relatively short period. Isotopic inheritance means that the glacier may have existed as recently as the ‘Little Ice Age’ (LIA) of the 17th or 18th century ad, a view supported by glacier-climate modelling. Nine 10Be ages confirm a Younger Dryas Stadial (YDS) age for a cirque-floor boulder till, and date the glacier maximum to c. 12.3 kyr when the ELA was at c. 963 m altitude. Both glaciers existed because of enhanced accumulation from wind-blown snow, but the difference in ELA of only c. 84 m belies the YDS–LIA temperature difference of c. 7°C and emphasises the glacioclimatic contrast between the two periods. Three 10Be ages from till boulders originally deposited in the YDS yield ages <5.5 kyr and indicate snow-avalanche disturbance of older debris since the mid-Holocene, as climate deteriorated towards marginal glaciation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)141-148
Number of pages8
JournalThe Holocene
Issue number2
Early online date18 Dec 2013
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2014


  • beryllium 10
  • Cairngorm Mountains
  • cosmogenic dating
  • glacier reconstruction
  • 'Little Ice Age'
  • Younger Dryas

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