skip to main content

Scotland's Ice Age landforms

Over the last 2.6 million years, the Ice Age glaciers carved and moulded many of the landforms we see today. These glaciers and their meltwater rivers eroded the underlying rocks and laid down deposits of ground-up rock, stones and gravel. They were also responsible for changes in the relative levels of the land and sea and for alterations to river courses. Beyond the ice, constant freezing and thawing created many fascinating 'periglacial' landforms.

Once the ice finally melted, the debris left by the glaciers provided the source materials for Scotland's beaches and the parent materials for our soils. Unstable slopes collapsed in sometimes massive landslides. Vegetation and animals colonised the land. Coastlines rose or sank, and rivers cut their present day courses.

Historically, Scotland's landforms played a key part in the development of the Ice Age theory in the mid-19th century. In particular, they helped convince the Swiss geologist, Louis Agassiz, of the reality of the former existence of glaciers in an area far from high mountains such as the Alps and hence represented compelling evidence for a great Ice Age. Agassiz was especially influenced by the evidence he found in the West Highlands and notably in the Glen Roy area.

Ben Lawers, Meall Garbh, An Stuc.  İLorne Gill/SNH. For information on reproduction rights contact the Scottish Natural Heritage Image Library on Tel. 01738 444177 or www.snh.gov.uk

The Ice Age

The current Ice Age began around 2.6 million years ago, and continues today - although it is warmer in this period, between glacials!

Edinburgh Castle. İLorne Gill/SNH. For information on reproduction rights contact the Scottish Natural Heritage Image Library on Tel. 01738 444177 or www.snh.gov.uk

Ice-carved landscapes

Under the right conditions, glaciers can be very effective agents of erosion through abrading, crushing and quarrying the underlying bedrock.

Aerial view of a drumlin field near Kirkintilloch. İP&A Macdonald/SNH. For information on reproduction rights contact the Scottish Natural Heritage Image Library on Tel. 01738 444177 or www.snh.gov.uk

Ice-transported debris

Rocks on the move are a lasting legacy of the glaciers and a great sources of information.

An aerial view of the three parallel roads cut into the hillside on the west side of Glen Roy, İLorne Gill/SNH. For information on reproduction rights contact the Scottish Natural Heritage Image Library on Tel. 01738 444177 or www.snh.gov.uk

Meltwater channels and deposits

When the glaciers melted, they fed powerful meltwater rivers.

Wind patterned vegetation on Carn Crom above Derry lodge in the Cairngorm mountains. İLorne Gill/SNH. For information on reproduction rights contact the Scottish Natural Heritage Image Libary on tel. 01738 444177 or www.snh.gov.uk

Periglacial features

Beyond the limits of the ice, constant freezing and thawing of water created many fascinating landforms which can still be seen today.

Pass of Ryvoan. İLorne Gill/SNH. For information on reproduction rights contact the Scottish Natural Heritage Image Library on Tel. 01738 44177 or www.snh.gov.uk

After the ice

One of the most dramatic effects after the ice was the changing position of the coastline in response to changes in relative sea level.


Related Links

Geodiversity in your area

Geodiversity in your area

Find out about the rocks, Ice Age landforms, coasts and rivers in your area.

Scotland: Creation of its Natural Landscape

Scotland: Creation of its Natural Landscape

This SNH-published book tells the story of the creation of Scotland's landscape - a landscape fashioned by geology (read online).



Last updated on Wednesday 31st March 2010 at 10:13 AM. Click here to comment on this page