The topography of drumlins; assessing their long profile shape

M Spagnolo, C.D Clark, A.L.C Hughs, P Dunlop

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


The literature on drumlins is pervaded by the notion that their longitudinal profile is usually highly asymmetric with a stoss steeper end and a lee gentler end, and that this can be used to infer the palaeo ice flow direction. The idea is built up in many papers covering more than a century of research. However, most of the early published papers were qualitative in nature and more recent quantitative papers appear to challenge the ubiquity of the classical stoss–lee shape. Here the shape of the drumlin longitudinal profile of 29,238 drumlins in the British Isles has been analysed. Drumlins were grouped into flowsets for which a palaeo ice flow direction was inferred independently of the drumlin shape. Given such ice flow directions it was then possible to identify the upflow and downflow ends of each drumlin and to trace and extract its longitudinal profile. Results indicate that the highest point of the drumlin is usually found around half way along the profile. The mean slope angles at the stoss and lee ends were found to be very similar. Finally, the average profile built from all mapped drumlins appears almost symmetric. In conclusion, drumlin longitudinal profile is far from being the classically asymmetric shape widely reported in text-book descriptions. Drumlins are mostly symmetrical in shape with a very slight tendency towards the classical shape. Highly asymmetric drumlins do exist but are rare and with an almost equal numbers of drumlins that are the reverse of this. These findings are verified both at the entire population level and the flowset level. This demonstrates that the idealized stoss–lee shape of classically-asymmetric drumlins is not representative of the population and should be replaced with that of mostly symmetric bumps. Drumlin shape is not a good indicator of the palaeo ice flow direction.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)790-804
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - May 2011

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  • drumlins
  • morphometry
  • longitudinal profile
  • asymmetry
  • shape


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