The classical model of trough mouth fan (TMF) formation was developed in the Polar North Atlantic to explain large submarine fans situated in front of bathymetric troughs that extend across continental shelves to the shelf break. This model emphasizes the delivery of large volumes of subglacial sediment to the termini of ice streams flowing along troughs, and subsequent re-deposition of this glacigenic sediment down the continental slope via debris-flow processes. However, there is considerable variation in terms of the morphology and large-scale sediment architecture of continental slopes in front of palaeo-ice streams. This variability reflects differences in slope gradient, the relative contributions of meltwater sedimentation compared with debris-flow deposition, and sediment supply/geology of the adjacent continental shelf. TMF development is favoured under conditions of a low (<1&DEG;) slope gradient; a passive-margin tectonic setting; abundant, readily erodible sediments on the continental shelf - and thus associated high rates of sediment delivery to the shelf edge; and a wide continental shelf. The absence of large sediment fans on continental slopes in front of cross-shelf troughs should not, however, be taken to indicate the former absence of palaeo-ice streams in the geological record.