15 Aug 2023
 | 15 Aug 2023
Status: this preprint is open for discussion.

Coevolving edge rounding and shape of glacial erratics; the case of Shap granite, UK

Paul Carling

Abstract. The size distributions and the shapes of detrital rock clasts can shed light on the environmental history of the clast assemblages and the processes responsible for clast comminution. For example, mechanical fracture due to the stresses imposed on a basal rock surface by a body of flowing glacial ice releases initial ‘parent’ shapes of large blocks of rock from outcrop, which then are modified by the mechanics of abrasion and fracture during subglacial transport. The latter processes produce subsequent generations of shapes, possibly distinct in form from the parent blocks. Lacking is a complete understanding of both the processes responsible for block shape changes and the trends in shape adjustment with time and distance away from the source outcrop. Field data on edge rounding and shape changes of Shap granite blocks (dispersed by Devensian ice eastwards from outcrop) are used herein to explore the systematic changes in block form with distance from the outcrop.

The degree of edge rounding for individual blocks increases in a punctuated fashion with the distance from the outcrop as blocks fracture repeatedly to introduce new fresh unrounded edges. In contrast, block shape is conservative, with parent blocks fracturing to produce self-similar ‘child’ shapes with distance. Measured block shapes evolve in accord with two well-known models for block fracture mechanics ─ 1) stochastic and 2) silver ratio models ─ towards one or other of these two attractor states. Progressive reduction in block size, in accord with fracture mechanics, reflects the fact that most blocks were transported at the sole of the ice mass and were subject to the compressive and tensile forces of the ice acting on the stoss surfaces of blocks lying against a bedrock or till surface. The interpretations might apply to a range of homogeneous hard rock lithologies.

Paul Carling

Status: open (until 24 Oct 2023)

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  • RC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-1621', Anonymous Referee #1, 30 Sep 2023 reply

Paul Carling


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Short summary
Edge rounding in Shap granite glacial erratics is an irregular function of distance from the source outcrop in northern England, UK. Block shape is conservative, evolving according to block fracture mechanics ─ stochastic and silver ratio models ─ towards either of two attractor states. Progressive reduction in size occurs to blocks transported at the sole of the ice mass where the blocks are subject to the compressive and tensile forces of the ice acting against a bedrock or till surface.