Ice‐rafted debris associated with binge/purge oscillations of the Laurentide Ice Sheet

R. B. Alley, D. R. MacAyeal

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211 Scopus citations


The North Atlantic sediment record suggests quasi‐periodic (7000‐ to 12,000‐year period) ice‐rafted debris (IRD) depositions during at least the last glacial period. The cause of these Heinrich events, as they are commonly known, is not fully understood; however, they may point to surges of the ice stream that drained the Hudson Bay/Hudson Strait region of the Laurentide Ice Sheet. We investigate a simple conceptual model of ice stream instability (the binge/purge model) to suggest ways in which the ice stream could have entrained sufficient debris to account for the estimated mass of IRD associated with a typical Heinrich IRD layer in the North Atlantic (1.0 ± 0.3 × 1015 kg). We find that freezing of debris‐laden ice at the bed of the ice stream during the brief (≈ 750 years) surge phase of the ice stream's hypothesized binge/purge cycle can incorporate up to 5.1 × 1015 kg. This amount is sufficient to meet the constraints of the North Atlantic sediment record but by no means verifies the binge/purge model as the cause of Heinrich events.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)503-511
Number of pages9
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1994

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oceanography
  • Palaeontology


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