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Bimodal Plio–Quaternary glacial erosion of fjords and low-relief surfaces in Scandinavia


Glacial landscapes are characterized by dramatic local relief, but they also commonly exhibit high-elevation, low-relief surfaces1,2,3,4,5,6,7. These surfaces have been attributed to glacial headward erosion in Alpine settings1,2. However, the timing and processes responsible for their formation in northern high-latitude regions remain elusive4,7. Here we estimate the rate of fjord erosion from geophysical relief8,9 and compare that with the erosion reflected by offshore sedimentation in western Scandinavia during the late Pliocene and Quaternary glaciations (0–2.8 million years ago). We find that the sediments generated by fjord erosion over the entire western Scandinavia accounts for only 35–55% of the total sediment volume deposited off the coast of Norway. This large mismatch implies that during this period, significant erosion must have also taken place away from the fjords at high elevation and indicates a bimodal distribution of glacial erosion10. Furthermore, comparing the distribution of the high-elevation, low-relief surfaces with estimates of the long-term glacier equilibrium line altitude supports the idea that effective erosion in extensively glaciated areas limits topographic height, a process known as the glacial buzzsaw2,6,11,12. We therefore conclude that glacial and periglacial processes have a substantial impact on the formation of low-relief surfaces observed1,2,3,4,5,6,7 in glaciated mountain belts and high-latitude continental margins.

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Figure 1: Topography of western Scandinavia and schematic models for Cenozoic to modern geodynamic evolution.
Figure 2: Fjord-erosion quantification in the Sognefjord catchment.
Figure 3: Fjord erosion versus offshore sediment deposits.
Figure 4: Glacial origin of low-relief surfaces and fjords.


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We are grateful to J. D. Champagnac, P. Cowie, T. Sømme and A. Nesje for their comments on previous versions of this manuscript. We also thank M. Pérez-Gussinyé for providing the effective elastic-thickness map, W. Schwanghart for granting access to TopoToolbox, and L. Rise, D. Ottesen, A. Lepland and J. Dowdeswell for providing sediment-thickness maps. P.S., R.S.H. and S.G. acknowledge financial support from the Statoil Earth System Modelling project and University of Bergen. P.G.V. and F.H. acknowledge support from ETH Zürich.

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P.S. analysed the data and carried out the modelling. All authors contributed equally to the design of the study and writing of the paper.

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Correspondence to Philippe Steer.

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Steer, P., Huismans, R., Valla, P. et al. Bimodal Plio–Quaternary glacial erosion of fjords and low-relief surfaces in Scandinavia. Nature Geosci 5, 635–639 (2012).

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