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The Baltoro Glacier in the Karakoram Mountains, Pakistan-administered Kashmir. At 62 kilometres (39 mi) in length, it is one of the longest alpine glaciers on earth
Perito Moreno Glacier Patagonia Argentina
Aletsch Glacier, Switzerland, the largest glacier in the European Alps
Icebergs breaking off glaciers at Cape York, Greenland

A glacier (pronounced UK: /ˈɡlæsiər/ or US: /ˈɡleɪʃər/ ) is a perennial mass of ice which moves over land. A glacier forms in locations where the mass accumulation of snow and ice exceeds ablation over many years. The word glacier comes from French via the Vulgar Latin glacia, and ultimately from Latin glacies meaning ice.[1] The corresponding area of study is called glaciology.

Glacier ice is the largest reservoir of fresh water on Earth, and is second only to oceans as the largest reservoir of total water. Glaciers cover vast areas of the polar regions and are found in mountain ranges of every continent including Australasia (there are glaciers in New Zealand). In the tropics glaciers are restricted to the highest mountains. The processes and landforms caused by glaciers and related to them are referred to as glacial. The process of glacier growth and establishment is called glaciation. Glaciers are indicators of climate and are important to world water resources and sea level variation. They are an important component of the more encompassing cryosphere.


Types of glaciers

Mouth of the Schlatenkees Glacier near Innergschlöß, Austria.

Glaciers are categorized in many ways including by their morphology, thermal characteristics or their behavior. Two common types of glaciers are Alpine glaciers, which originate in mountains, and Continental ice sheets, which cover larger areas.

Alpine glaciers form on mountain slopes and are also known as mountain, niche or cirque glaciers. An Alpine glacier that fills a valley is referred to as a Valley glacier. Larger glaciers that cover an entire mountain, mountain chain or volcano are known as an icecap or ice field, such as the Juneau Icefield.[2] Icecaps feed outlet glaciers, tongues of ice that extend into valleys below far from the margins of the larger ice masses.

Ice sheets are the largest glaciers. These enormous masses of ice are not visibly affected by the landscape as they cover the entire surface beneath them, with possible exception near the glacier margins where they are thinnest. Antarctica and Greenland are the only places where Continental ice sheets currently exist. These regions contain vast quantities of fresh water. The volume of ice is so large that if the Greenland ice sheet melted, it would cause sea levels to rise six meters (20 ft) all around the world. If the Antarctic ice sheet melted, sea levels would rise up to 65 meters (210 ft).[3] Ice shelves are areas of floating ice, commonly located at the margin of an ice sheet. As a result they are thinner and have limited slopes and reduced velocities.[4] Ice streams are fast-moving sections of an ice sheet.[5]. They can be several hundred kilometers long. Ice streams have narrow margins and on either side ice flow is usually an order of magnitude less.[6] In Antarctica, many ice streams drain into large ice shelves. However, some drain directly into the sea, often with an ice tongue, like Mertz Glacier. In Greenland and Antarctica ice streams ending at the sea are often referred to as tidewater glaciers or outlet glaciers, such as Jakobshavn Isbræ (Kalaallisut: Sermeq Kujalleq).

Tidewater glaciers are glaciers that terminate in the sea. As the ice reaches the sea pieces break off, or calve, forming icebergs. Most tidewater glaciers calve above sea level, which often results in a tremendous splash as the iceberg strikes the water. If the water is deep, glaciers can calve underwater, causing the iceberg to suddenly leap up out of the water. The Hubbard Glacier is the longest tidewater glacier in Alaska and has a calving face over 10 km (6 mi) long. Yakutat Bay and Glacier Bay are both popular with cruise ship passengers because of the huge glaciers descending hundreds of feet to the water. This glacier type undergoes centuries-long cycles of advance and retreat that are much less affected by the climate changes currently causing the retreat of most other glaciers. Most tidewater glaciers are outlet glaciers of ice caps and ice fields.

In terms of thermal characteristics, a temperate glacier is at melting point throughout the year, from its surface to its base. The ice of a polar glacier is always below freezing point from the surface to its base, although the surface snowpack may experience seasonal melting. A sub-polar glacier has both temperate and polar ice, depending on the depth beneath the surface and position along the length of the glacier.


Low and high contrast images of the Byrd Glacier. The low-contrast version is similar to the level of detail the naked eye would see — smooth and almost featureless. The bottom image uses enhanced contrast to highlight flow lines on the ice sheet and bottom crevasses.
Formation of glacial ice

Glaciers form where the accumulation of snow and ice exceeds ablation. As the snow and ice thicken, they reach a point where they begin to move, due to a combination of the surface slope and the pressure of the overlying snow and ice. On steeper slopes this can occur with as little as 50 feet of snow-ice. The snow which forms temperate glaciers is subject to repeated freezing and thawing, which changes it into a form of granular ice called firn. Under the pressure of the layers of ice and snow above it, this granular ice fuses into denser and denser firn. Over a period of years, layers of firn undergo further compaction and become glacial ice. Glacier ice has a slightly reduced density from ice formed from the direct freezing of water. The air between snowflakes becomes trapped and creates air bubbles between the ice crystals.

The distinctive blue tint of glacial ice is often wrongly attributed to Rayleigh scattering due to bubbles in the ice. The blue color is actually created for the same reason that water is blue, that is, its slight absorption of red light due to an overtone of the infrared OH stretching mode of the water molecule.[7]


The Upper Grindelwald Glacier and the Schreckhorn, in the Swiss Alps, showing accumulation and ablation zones

The location where a glacier originates is referred to as the "glacier head". A glacier terminates at the "glacier foot", or terminus. Glaciers are broken into zones based on surface snowpack and melt conditions.[8] The ablation zone is the region where there is a net loss in glacier mass. The equilibrium line separates the ablation zone and the accumulation zone. At this altitude, the amount of new snow gained by accumulation is equal to the amount of ice lost through ablation. The accumulation zone is the region where snowpack or superimposed ice accumulation persists.

A further zonation of the accumulation zone distinguishes the melt conditions that exist.

  • The dry snow zone is a region where no melt occurs, even in the summer, and the snowpack remains dry.
  • The percolation zone is an area with some surface melt, causing meltwater to percolate into the snowpack. This zone is often marked by refrozen ice lenses, glands, and layers. The snowpack also never reaches melting point.
  • Near the equilibrium line on some glaciers, a superimposed ice zone develops. This zone is where meltwater refreezes as a cold layer in the glacier, forming a continuous mass of ice.
  • The wet snow zone is the region where all of the snow deposited since the end of the previous summer has been raised to 0°C.

The upper part of a glacier that receives most of the snowfall is called the accumulation zone. In general, the glacier accumulation zone accounts for 60-70% of the glacier's surface area, more if the glacier calves icebergs. The depth of ice in the accumulation zone exerts a downward force sufficient to cause deep erosion of the rock in this area. After the glacier is gone, its force often leaves a bowl or amphitheater-shaped isostatic depression ranging from large lake basins, such as the Great Lakes or Finger Lakes, to smaller mountain basins, known as cirques.

The "health" of a glacier is usually assessed by determining the glacier mass balance or observing terminus behavior. Healthy glaciers have large accumulation zones, more than 60% of their area snowcovered at the end of the melt season, and a terminus with vigorous flow.

Following the Little Ice Age, around 1850, the glaciers of the Earth have retreated substantially through the 1940s (see Retreat of glaciers since 1850). A slight cooling led to the advance of many alpine glaciers from 1950-1985. However, since 1985 glacier retreat and mass balance loss has become increasingly ubiquitous and large.[9][10][11]


Nadelhorn Glacier above Saas-Fee, Valais, Switzerland

Glaciers move, or flow, downhill due to the internal deformation of ice and gravity.[12] Ice behaves like an easily breaking solid until its thickness exceeds about 50 meters (160 ft). The pressure on ice deeper than that depth causes plastic flow. At the molecular level, ice consists of stacked layers of molecules with relatively weak bonds between the layers. When the stress of the layer above exceeds the inter-layer binding strength, it moves faster than the layer below.[13]

Another type of movement is through basal sliding. In this process, the glacier slides over the terrain on which it sits, lubricated by the presence of liquid water. As the pressure increases toward the base of the glacier, the melting point of water decreases, and the ice melts. Friction between ice and rock and geothermal heat from the Earth's interior also contribute to melting. This type of movement is dominant in temperate, or warm-based glaciers. The geothermal heat flux becomes more important the thicker a glacier becomes.[14]

The rate of movement is dependent on the underlying slope, amongst many other factors.


Fracture zone and cracks

Ice cracks in the Titlis Glacier
Signs warning of the hazards of a glacier in New Zealand

The top 50 meters of the glacier, being under less pressure, are more rigid; this section is known as the fracture zone, and mostly moves as a single unit, over the plastic-like flow of the lower section. When the glacier moves through irregular terrain, cracks up to 50 meters deep form in the fracture zone. The lower layers of glacial ice flow and deform plastically under the pressure, allowing the glacier as a whole to move slowly like a viscous fluid. Glaciers flow downslope, usually this reflects the slope of their base, but it may reflect the surface slope instead. Thus, a glacier can flow rises in terrain at their base. The upper layers of glaciers are more brittle, and often form deep cracks known as crevasses. The presence of crevasses is a sure sign of a glacier. Moving ice-snow of a glacier is often separated from a mountain side or snow-ice that is stationary and clinging to that mountain side by a bergshrund. This looks like a crevasse but is at the margin of the glacier and is a singular feature.

Crevasses form due to differences in glacier velocity. As the parts move at different speeds and directions, shear forces cause the two sections to break apart, opening the crack of a crevasse all along the disconnecting faces. Hence, the distance between the two separated parts, while touching and rubbing deep down, frequently widens significantly towards the surface layers, many times creating a wide chasm. Crevasses seldom are more than 150 feet deep but in some cases can be 1,000 feet or even deeper. Beneath this point, the plastic deformation of the ice under pressure is too great for the differential motion to generate cracks. Transverse crevasses are transverse to flow, as a glacier accelerates where the slope steepens. Longitudinal crevasses form semi-parallel to flow where a glacier expands laterally. Marginal crevasses form from the edge of the glacier, due to the reduction in speed caused by friction of the valley walls. Marginal crevasses are usually largely transverse to flow.

Crossing a crevasse on the Easton Glacier, Mount Baker, in the North Cascades, USA

Crevasses make travel over glaciers hazardous. Subsequent heavy snow may form fragile snow bridges, increasing the danger by hiding the presence of crevasses at the surface. Below the equilibrium line, glacier meltwater is concentrated in stream channels. The meltwater can pool in a proglacial lake, a lake on top of the glacier, or can descend into the depths of the glacier via moulins. Within or beneath the glacier, the stream will flow in an englacial or sub-glacial tunnel. Sometimes these tunnels reemerge at the surface of the glacier.[15]


The speed of glacial displacement is partly determined by friction. Friction makes the ice at the bottom of the glacier move more slowly than the upper portion. In alpine glaciers, friction is also generated at the valley's side walls, which slows the edges relative to the center. This was confirmed by experiments in the 19th century, in which stakes were planted in a line across an alpine glacier, and as time passed, those in the center moved farther.

Mean speeds vary greatly. There may be no motion in stagnant areas, where trees can establish themselves on surface sediment deposits such as in Alaska. In other cases they can move as fast as 20–30 meters per day, as in the case of Greenlands's Jakobshavn Isbræ (Kalaallisut: Sermeq Kujalleq), or 2–3 m per day on Byrd Glacier the largest glacier in the world in Antarctica. Velocity increases with increasing slope, increasing thickness, increasing snowfall, increasing longitudinal confinement, increasing basal temperature, increasing meltwater production and reduced bed hardness.

A few glaciers have periods of very rapid advancement called surges. These glaciers exhibit normal movement until suddenly they accelerate, then return to their previous state. During these surges, the glacier may reach velocities far greater than normal speed.[16] These surges may be caused by failure of the underlying bedrock, the ponding of meltwater at the base of the glacier[17] — perhaps delivered from a supraglacial lake — or the simple accumulation of mass beyond a critical "tipping point".[18]

In glaciated areas where the glacier moves faster than one kilometer per year, glacial earthquakes occur. These are large scale tremblors that have seismic magnitudes as high as 6.1.[19][20]

The number of glacial earthquakes in Greenland show a peak every year in July, August and September, and the number is increasing over time. In a study using data from January 1993 through October 2005, more events were detected every year since 2002, and twice as many events were recorded in 2005 as there were in any other year. This increase in the numbers of glacial earthquakes in Greenland may be a response to global warming.[19][20]

Seismic waves are also generated by the Whillans Ice Stream, a large, fast-moving river of ice pouring from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet into the Ross Ice Shelf. Two bursts of seismic waves are released every day, each one equivalent to a magnitude 7 earthquake, and are seemingly related to the tidal action of the Ross Sea. During each event a 96 by 193 kilometer (60 by 120 mile) region of the glacier moves as much as .67 meters (2.2 feet) over about 25 minutes, remains still for 12 hours, then moves another half-meter. The seismic waves are recorded at seismographs around Antarctica, and even as far away as Australia, a distance of more than 6,400 kilometers. Because the motion takes place of such along period of time 10 to 25 minutes, it cannot be felt by scientists standing on the moving glacier. It is not known if these events are related to global warming[21]


Ogives are alternating dark and light bands of ice occurring as narrow wave crests and wave valleys on glacier surfaces. They only occur below icefalls, but not all icefalls have ogives below them. Once formed, they bend progressively downglacier due to the increased velocity toward the glacier's centerline. Ogives are linked to seasonal motion of the glacier as the width of one dark and one light band generally equals the annual movement of the glacier. The ridges and valleys are formed because ice from an icefall is severely broken up, thereby increasing ablation surface area during the summertime. This creates a swale and space for snow accumulation in the winter, which in turn creates a ridge.[22] Sometimes ogives are described as either wave ogives or band ogives, in which they are solely undulations or varying color bands, respectively.[23]


Black ice glacier in Aconcagua vicinity, Argentina

Glaciers occur on every continent and approximately 47 countries. Extensive glaciers are found in Antarctica, Chilean Patagonia, Canada, Alaska, Greenland and Iceland. Mountain glaciers are widespread, e.g., in the Andes, the Himalaya, the Rocky Mountains, the Caucasus, and the Alps. On mainland Australia no glaciers exist today, although a small glacier on Mount Kosciuszko was present in the last glacial period, and Tasmania was extensively glaciated.[24] The South Island of New Zealand has many glaciers including Tasman, Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers. In New Guinea, small, rapidly diminishing, glaciers are located on its highest summit massif of Puncak Jaya.[25] Africa has glaciers on Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, on Mount Kenya and in the Ruwenzori Range.

Permanent snow cover is affected by factors such as the degree of slope on the land, amount of snowfall and the winds. As temperature decreases with altitude, high mountains — even those near the Equator — have permanent snow cover on their upper portions, above the snow line. Examples include Mount Kilimanjaro and the Tropical Andes in South America; however, the only snow to occur exactly on the Equator is at 4,690 m (15,387 ft) on the southern slope of Volcán Cayambe in Ecuador.

Conversely, areas of the Arctic, such as Banks Island, and the Dry Valleys in Antarctica are considered polar deserts, as they receive little snowfall despite the bitter cold. Cold air, unlike warm air, is unable to transport much water vapor. Even during glacial periods of the Quaternary, Manchuria, lowland Siberia[26], and central and northern Alaska[27], though extraordinarily cold with winter temperatures believed to reach −100 °C (−148.0 °F) in parts[28], had such light snowfall that glaciers could not form[29][30].

In addition to the dry, unglaciated polar regions, some mountains and volcanoes in Bolivia, Chile and Argentina are high (4,500 metres (14,800 ft) - 6,900 m (22,600 ft)) and cold, but the relative lack of precipitation prevents snow from accumulating into glaciers. This is because these peaks are located near or in the hyperarid Atacama desert.

Glacial geology

Diagram of glacial plucking and abrasion
Glacially-plucked granitic bedrock near Mariehamn, Åland Islands.

Rocks and sediments are added to glaciers through various processes. Glaciers erode the terrain principally through two methods: abrasion and plucking.

As the glacier flows over the bedrock's fractured surface, it softens and lifts blocks of rock that are brought into the ice. This process is known as plucking, and it is produced when subglacial water penetrates the fractures and the subsequent freezing expansion separates them from the bedrock. When the ice expands, it acts as a lever that loosens the rock by lifting it. This way, sediments of all sizes become part of the glacier's load. The rocks frozen into the bottom of the ice then act like grit in sandpaper.

Abrasion occurs when the ice and the load of rock fragments slide over the bedrock and function as sandpaper that smooths and polishes the surface situated below. This pulverized rock is called rock flour. The flour is formed by rock grains of a size between 0.002 and 0.00625 mm. Sometimes the amount of rock flour produced is so high that currents of meltwaters acquire a grayish color. These processes of erosion lead to steeper valley walls and mountain slopes in alpine settings, which can cause avalanches and rock slides. These further add material to the glacier.

Visible characteristics of glacial abrasion are glacial striations. These are produced when the bottom's ice contains large chunks of rock that mark scratches in the bedrock. By mapping the direction of the flutes, researchers can determine the direction of the glacier's movement. Chatter marks are seen as lines of roughly crescent-shape depressions in the rock underlying a glacier, caused by the abrasion where a boulder in the ice catches and is then released repetitively as the glacier drags it over the underlying basal rock.

The rate of glacier erosion is variable. The differential erosion undertaken by the ice is controlled by six important factors:

  • Velocity of glacial movement;
  • Thickness of the ice;
  • Shape, abundance and hardness of rock fragments contained in the ice at the bottom of the glacier;
  • Relative ease of erosion of the surface under the glacier;
  • Thermal conditions at the glacier base; and
  • Permeability and water pressure at the glacier base.

Material that becomes incorporated in a glacier are typically carried as far as the zone of ablation before being deposited. Glacial deposits are of two distinct types:

  • Glacial till: material directly deposited from glacial ice. Till includes a mixture of undifferentiated material ranging from clay size to boulders, the usual composition of a moraine.
  • Fluvial and outwash: sediments deposited by water. These deposits are stratified through various processes, such as boulders' being separated from finer particles.

The larger pieces of rock which are encrusted in till or deposited on the surface are called "glacial erratics". They may range in size from pebbles to boulders, but as they may be moved great distances, they may be of drastically different type than the material upon which they are found. Patterns of glacial erratics provide clues of past glacial motions.


Glacial moraines above Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada .

Glacial moraines are formed by the deposition of material from a glacier and are exposed after the glacier has retreated. These features usually appear as linear mounds of till, a non-sorted mixture of rock, gravel and boulders within a matrix of a fine powdery material. Terminal or end moraines are formed at the foot or terminal end of a glacier. Lateral moraines are formed on the sides of the glacier. Medial moraines are formed when two different glaciers, flowing in the same direction, coalesce and the lateral moraines of each combine to form a moraine in the middle of the merged glacier. Less apparent is the ground moraine, also called glacial drift, which often blankets the surface underneath much of the glacier downslope from the equilibrium line. Glacial meltwaters contain rock flour, an extremely fine powder ground from the underlying rock by the glacier's movement. Other features formed by glacial deposition include long snake-like ridges formed by streambeds under glaciers, known as eskers, and distinctive streamlined hills, known as drumlins.

Stoss-and-lee erosional features are formed by glaciers and show the direction of their movement. Long linear rock scratches (that follow the glacier's direction of movement) are called glacial striations, and divots in the rock are called chatter marks. Both of these features are left on the surfaces of stationary rock that were once under a glacier and were formed when loose rocks and boulders in the ice were transported over the rock surface. Transport of fine-grained material within a glacier can smooth or polish the surface of rocks, leading to glacial polish. Glacial erratics are rounded boulders that were left by a melting glacier and are often seen perched precariously on exposed rock faces after glacial retreat.

The term moraine is of French origin. It was coined by peasants to describe alluvial embankments and rims found near the margins of glaciers in the French Alps. In modern geology, the term is used more broadly, and is applied to a series of formations, all of which are composed of till.


A drumlin field forms after a glacier has modified the landscape. The teardrop-shaped formations denote the direction of the ice flow.

Drumlins are asymmetrical, canoe shaped hills with aerodynamic profiles made mainly of till. Their heights vary from 15 to 50 meters and they can reach a kilometer in length. The tilted side of the hill looks toward the direction from which the ice advanced (stoss), while the longer slope follows the ice's direction of movement (lee).

Drumlins are found in groups called drumlin fields or drumlin camps. An example of these fields is found east of Rochester, New York, and it is estimated that it contains about 10,000 drumlins.

Although the process that forms drumlins is not fully understood, it can be inferred from their shape that they are products of the plastic deformation zone of ancient glaciers. It is believed that many drumlins were formed when glaciers advanced over and altered the deposits of earlier glaciers.

Glacial valleys

A glaciated valley in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest showing the characteristic U-shape and flat bottom.
This image shows the termini of the glaciers in the Bhutan Himalaya. Glacial lakes have been rapidly forming on the surface of the debris-covered glaciers in this region during the last few decades.

Before glaciation, mountain valleys have a characteristic "V" shape, produced by downward erosion by water. However, during glaciation, these valleys widen and deepen, forming a "U"-shaped glacial valley. Besides the deepening and widening of the valley, the glacier also smooths the valley due to erosion. In this way, it eliminates the spurs of earth that extend across the valley. Because of this interaction, triangular cliffs called truncated spurs are formed.

Many glaciers deepen their valleys more than their smaller tributaries. Therefore, when the glaciers recede from the region, the valleys of the tributary glaciers remain above the main glacier's depression, and these are called hanging valleys.

In parts of the soil that were affected by abrasion and plucking, the depressions left can be filled by lakes, called paternoster lakes.

At the 'start' of a classic valley glacier is the cirque, which has a bowl shape with escarped walls on three sides, but open on the side that descends into the valley. In the cirque, an accumulation of ice is formed. These begin as irregularities on the side of the mountain, which are later augmented in size by the coining of the ice. Once the glacier melts, these corries are usually occupied by small mountain lakes called tarns.

There may be two glacial cirques 'back to back' which erode deep into their backwalls until only a narrow ridge, called an arête is left. This structure may result in a mountain pass.

Glaciers are also responsible for the creation of fjords (deep coves or inlets) and escarpments that are found at high latitudes.

Features of a glacial landscape

Arêtes and horns (pyramid peak)

An arête is a narrow crest with a sharp edge. The meeting of three or more arêtes creates pointed pyramidal peaks and in extremely steep-sided forms these are called horns.

Both features may have the same process behind their formation: the enlargement of cirques from glacial plucking and the action of the ice. Horns are formed by cirques that encircle a single mountain.

Arêtes emerge in a similar manner; the only difference is that the cirques are not located in a circle, but rather on opposite sides along a divide. Arêtes can also be produced by the collision of two parallel glaciers. In this case, the glacial tongues cut the divides down to size through erosion, and polish the adjacent valleys.

Roche moutonnée

Some rock formations in the path of a glacier are sculpted into small hills with a shape known as roche moutonnée or "sheepback" rock. An elongated, rounded, asymmetrical, bedrock knob can be produced by glacier erosion. It has a gentle slope on its up-glacier side and a steep to vertical face on the down-glacier side. The glacier abrades the smooth slope that it flows along, while rock is torn loose from the downstream side and carried away in ice, a process known as 'plucking'. Rock on this side is fractured by a combination of various forces, such as water, ice in rock cracks, and structural stresses.

Alluvial stratification

The water that rises from the ablation zone moves away from the glacier and carries with it fine eroded sediments. As the speed of the water decreases, so does its capacity to carry objects in suspension. The water then gradually deposits the sediment as it runs, creating an alluvial plain. When this phenomenon occurs in a valley, it is called a valley train. When the deposition is to an estuary, the sediments are known as "bay mud".

Landscape produced by a receding glacier

Outwash plains and valley trains are usually accompanied by basins known as "kettles". These are glacial depressions produced when large ice blocks are stuck in the glacial alluvium. After they melt, the sediment is left with holes. The diameter of such depressions ranges from 5 m to 13 km, with depths of up to 45 meters. Most are circular in shape due to the melting blocks of ice becoming rounded. The lakes that often form in these depressions are known as "kettle lakes".[31]

Deposits in contact with ice

When a glacier reduces in size to a critical point, its flow stops, and the ice becomes stationary. Meanwhile, meltwater flows over, within, and beneath the ice leave stratified alluvial deposits. Because of this, as the ice melts, it leaves stratified deposits in the form of columns, terraces and clusters. These types of deposits are known as "deposits in contact with ice".

When those deposits take the form of columns of tipped sides or mounds, they are called kames. Some kames form when meltwater deposits sediments through openings in the interior of the ice. In other cases, they are just the result of fans or deltas towards the exterior of the ice produced by meltwater. When the glacial ice occupies a valley, it can form terraces or kame along the sides of the valley.

A third type of deposit formed in contact with the ice is characterized by long, narrow sinuous crests, composed fundamentally of sand and gravel deposited by streams of meltwater flowing within, or beneath the glacier. After the ice has melted, these linear ridges or eskers remain as landscape features. Some of these crests have heights exceeding 100 meters and their lengths surpass 100 km.

Loess deposits

Very fine glacial sediments or rock flour is often picked up by wind blowing over the bare surface and may be deposited great distances from the original fluvial deposition site. These eolian loess deposits may be very deep, even hundreds of meters, as in areas of China and the Midwestern United States. Katabatic winds can be important in this process.

Transportation and erosion

  • Entrainment is the picking up of loose material by the glacier from along the bed and valley sides. Entrainment can happen by regelation or by the ice simply picking up the debris.
  • Basal Ice Freezing is thought to be to be made by glaciohydraulic supercooling, though some studies show that even where physical conditions allow it to occur, the process may not be responsible for observed sequences of basal ice.
  • Plucking is the process involves the glacier freezing onto the valley sides and subsequent ice movement pulling away masses of rock. As the bedrock is greater in strength than the glacier, only previously loosened material can be removed. It can be loosened by local pressure and temperature, water and pressure release of the rock itself.
  • Supraglacial debris is carried on the surface of the glacier as lateral and medial moraines. In summer ablation, surface melt water carries a small load and this often disappears down crevasses.
  • Englacial debris is moraine carried within the body of the glacier.
  • Subglacial debris is moved along the floor of the valley either by the ice as ground moraine or by meltwater streams formed by pressure melting.


  • Lodgement till is identical to ground moraine. It is material that is smeared on to the valley floor when its weight becomes too great to be moved by the glacier.
  • Ablation till is a combination of englacial and supraglacial moraine. It is released as a stationary glacier begins to melt and material is dropped in situ.
  • Dumping is when a glacier moves material to its outermost or lowermost end and dumps it.
  • Deformation flow is the change of shape of the rock and land due to the glacier.

Isostatic rebound

Isostatic pressure by a glacier on the Earth's crust

This rise of a part of the crust is due to an isostatic adjustment. A large mass, such as an ice sheet/glacier, depresses the crust of the Earth and displaces the mantle below. The depression is about a third the thickness of the ice sheet. After the glacier melts the mantle begins to flow back to its original position pushing the crust back to its original position. This post-glacial rebound, which lags melting of the ice sheet/glacier, is currently occurring in measurable amounts in Scandinavia and the Great Lakes region of North America.

An interesting geomorphological feature created by the same process, but on a smaller scale, is known as dilation-faulting. It occurs within rock where previously compressed rock is allowed to return to its original shape, but more rapidly than can be maintained without faulting, leading to an effect similar to that which would be seen if the rock were hit by a large hammer. This can be observed in recently de-glaciated parts of Iceland.

Glaciers on Mars

Northern polar icecap on Mars

Elsewhere in the solar system, the vast polar ice caps of Mars rival those of the Earth and show glacial features. Especially the south polar cap is compared to glaciers on Earth.[32] Other glacial features on Mars are glacial debris aprons and the lineated valley fills of the fretted terrain in northern Arabia Terra.[33] Topographical features and computer models indicate the existence of more glaciers in Mars' past.[34]

Martian glaciers are affected by the thin atmosphere of Mars. Because of the low atmospheric pressure, ablation near the surface is solely due to sublimation, not melting. As on Earth, many glaciers are covered with a layer of rocks which insulates the ice. A radar instrument onboard the Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter found ice under a thin layer of rocks in formations called Lobate Debris Aprons (LDA's).[35][36][37][38][39]

See also

Cited references

  1. ^ Simpson, D.P. (1979). Cassell's Latin Dictionary (5 ed.). London: Cassell Ltd.. p. 883. ISBN 0-304-52257-0. 
  2. ^ "Retreat of alaskan glacier juneau icefield". Retrieved 2009-01-05. 
  3. ^ "Sea Level and Climate". USGS FS 002-00. USGS. 2000-01-31. Retrieved 2009-01-05. 
  4. ^ * National Snow and Ice Data Center. "Types of Glacier". 
  5. ^ Bindschadler, R.A. and T.A. Scambos. Satellite-image-derived velocity field of an Antarctic ice stream. Science, 252(5003), 242-246, 1991
  6. ^ British Antarctic Survey. "Description of Ice Streams". Retrieved 2009-01-26. 
  7. ^ What causes the blue color that sometimes appears in snow and ice ?
  8. ^ [Benson, C.S., 1961, "Stratigraphic studies in the snow and firn of the Greenland Ice Sheet", Res. Rep. 70, U.S. Army Snow, Ice and Permafrost Res Establ., Corps of Eng., 120 pp]
  9. ^ "Glacier change and related hazards in Switzerland". UNEP. Retrieved 2009-01-05. 
  10. ^ Frank Paul, et al., 2004, Rapid disintegration of Alpine glaciers observed with satellite data, GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS, VOL. 31, L21402, doi:10.1029/2004GL020816, 2004
  11. ^ Recent Global Glacier Retreat Overview
  12. ^ Greve, R.; Blatter, H. (2009). Dynamics of Ice Sheets and Glaciers. Springer. doi:10.1007/978-3-642-03415-2. ISBN 978-3-642-03414-5. 
  13. ^ W.S.B. Paterson, Physics of ice
  14. ^ Hughes, T. West Antarctic ice streams. Reviews of Geophysics and Space Physics, 15(1), 1-46, 1977
  15. ^ "Moulin 'Blanc': NASA Expedition Probes Deep Within a Greenland Glacier". NASA. 2006-12-11. Retrieved 2009-01-05. 
  16. ^ T. Strozzi et al.: The Evolution of a Glacier Surge Observed with the ERS Satellites (pdf, 1.3 Mb)
  17. ^ The Brúarjökull Project: Sedimentary environments of a surging glacier. The Brúarjökull Project research idea.
  18. ^ Meier & Post (1969)
  19. ^ a b Ekström, G., M. Nettles, and V. C. Tsai (2006)"Seasonality and Increasing Frequency of Greenland Glacial Earthquakes",Science, 311, 5768, 1756-1758, doi:10.1126/science.1122112
  20. ^ a b Tsai, V. C. and G. Ekström (2007). "Analysis of Glacial Earthquakes", J. Geophys. Res., 112, F03S22, doi:10.1029/2006JF000596
  21. ^ "The Antarctic Sun: Earthshaking Discovery". 
  22. ^ Easterbrook, D.J. (1999). Surface Processes and Landforms (2 ed.). New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc.. p. 546. ISBN 0-13-860958-6. 
  23. ^ Glossary of Glacier Terminology
  24. ^ C.D. Ollier: Australian Landforms and their History, National Mapping Fab, Geoscience Australia
  25. ^ KINCAID, JONI L.; KLEIN, ANDREW G. (2004). "Retreat of the Irian Jaya Glaciers from 2000 to 2002 as Measured from IKONOS Satellite Images". Portland, Maine, USA. pp. 147–157. Retrieved 2009-01-05. 
  26. ^ Collins, Henry Hill; Europe and the USSR; p. 263. ISBN 1256350003
  27. ^ Yukon Beringia Interpretive Center
  28. ^ Huntington, Ellsworth; The Character of Races; p. 55. ISBN 040509955X
  29. ^ Earth History 2001 (page 15)
  30. ^ "On the Zoogeography of the Holarctic Region"
  31. ^ "Kettle geology". Britannica Online. Retrieved 2009-03-12. 
  32. ^ Kargel, J.S. et al.:Martian Polar Ice Sheets and Mid-Latitude Debris-Rich Glaciers, and Terrestrial Analogs, Third International Conference on Mars Polar Science and Exploration, Alberta, Canada, October 13-17, 2003 (pdf 970 Kb)
  33. ^ Fretted Terrain: Lineated Valley Fill, Mars Global Surveyor Mars Orbiter Camera, Malin Space Science Systems/NASA
  34. ^ Martian glaciers: did they originate from the atmosphere?, ESA Mars Express, 20 January 2006
  35. ^ Head, J. et al. 2005. Tropical to mid-latitude snow and ice accumulation, flow and glaciation on Mars. Nature: 434. 346-350
  36. ^
  37. ^
  38. ^ Plaut, J. et al. 2008. Radar Evidence for Ice in Lobate Debris Aprons in the Mid-Northern Latitudes of Mars. Lunar and Planetary Science XXXIX. 2290.pdf
  39. ^ Holt, J. et al. 2008. Radar Sounding Evidence for Ice within Lobate Debris Aprons near Hellas Basin, Mid-Southern Latitudes of Mars. Lunar and Planetary Science XXXIX. 2441.pdf

Uncited references

  • This article draws heavily on the corresponding article in the Spanish-language Wikipedia, which was accessed in the version of 24 July 2005.
  • Hambrey, Michael; Alean, Jürg (2004). Glaciers (2nd ed. ed.). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-82808-2. OCLC 54371738.  An excellent less-technical treatment of all aspects, with superb photographs and firsthand accounts of glaciologists' experiences. All images of this book can be found online (see Weblinks: Glaciers-online)
  • Benn, Douglas I.; Evans, David J. A. (1999). Glaciers and Glaciation. Arnold. ISBN 0470236515. OCLC 38329570. 
  • Bennett, M. R.; Glasser, N. F. (1996). Glacial Geology: Ice Sheets and Landforms. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0471963445. OCLC 37536152 33359888 37536152. 
  • Hambrey, Michael (1994). Glacial Environments. University of British Columbia Press, UCL Press. ISBN 0774805102. OCLC 30512475.  An undergraduate-level textbook.
  • Knight, Peter G (1999). Glaciers. Cheltenham: Nelson Thornes. ISBN 0-7487-4000-7. OCLC 63064183 77294832 42656957 63064183 77294832.  A textbook for undergraduates avoiding mathematical complexities
  • Walley, Robert (1992). Introduction to Physical Geography. Wm. C. Brown Publishers.  A textbook devoted to explaining the geography of our planet.
  • W. S. B. Paterson (1994). Physics of Glaciers (3rd ed. ed.). Pergamon Press. ISBN 0080139728. OCLC 26188.  A comprehensive reference on the physical principles underlying formation and behavior.

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

GLACIER (adopted from the French; from glace, ice, Lat. glacies), a mass of compacted ice originating in a snow-field. Glaciers are formed on any portion of the earth's surface that is permanently above the snow-line. This line varies locally in the same latitudes, being in some places higher than in others, but in the main it may be described as an elliptical shell surrounding the earth with its longest diameter in the tropics and its shortest in the polar regions, where it touches sea-level. From the extreme regions of the Arctic and Antarctic circles this cold shell swells upwards into a broad dome, from 15,000 to 18,000 ft. high over the tropics, truncating, as it rises, a number of peaks and mountain ranges whose upper portions like all regions above this thermal shell receive all their moisture in the form of snow. Since the temperature above the snow-line is below freezing point evaporation is very slight, and as the snow is solid it tends to accumulate in snow-fields, where the snow of one year is covered by that of the next, and these are wrapped over many deeper layers that have fallen in previous years. If these piles of snow were rigid and immovable they would increase in height until the whole field rose above the zone of ordinary atmospheric precipitation, and the polar ice-caps would add a load to these regions that would produce far-reaching results. The mountain regions also would rise some miles in height, and all their features would be buried in domes of snow some miles in thickness. When, however, there is sufficient weight the mass yields to pressure and flows outwards and downwards. Thus a balance of weight and height is established, and the ice-field is disintegrated principally at the edges, the surplus in polar regions being carried off in the form of icebergs, and in mountain regions by streams that flow from the melting ends of the glaciers.

Table of contents


The formation of glaciers is in all cases due to similar causes, namely, to periodical and intermittent falls of snow. After a snow-fall there is a period of rest during which the snow becomes compacted by pressure and assumes the well-known granular character seen in banks and patches of ordinary snow that lie longest upon the ground when the snow is melting. This is the firn or neve. The next fall of snow covers and conceals the neve, but the light fresh crystals of this new snow in turn become compacted to the coarsely crystalline granular form of the underlying layer and become neve in turn. The process goes on continually; the lower layers become subject to greater and greater pressure, and in consequence become gradually compacted into dense clear ice, which, however, retains its granular crystalline texture throughout. The upper layers of neve are usually stratified, owing to some individual peculiarity in the fall, or to the accumulation of dust or debris upon the surface before it is covered by fresh snow. This stratification is often visible on the emerging glacier, though it is to be distinguished from the foliation planes caused by shearing movement in the body of the glacier ice.


The snow-field upon which a glacier depends is always formed when snow-fall is greater than snow-waste. This occurs under varying conditions with a differently resulting type of glacier. There are limited fields of snow in many mountain regions giving rise to long tongues of ice moving slowly down the valleys and therefore called "valley glaciers." The greater part of Greenland is covered by an ice-cap extending over nearly 400,000 sq. m., forming a kind of enormous continuous. glacier on its lower slopes. The Antarctic ice region is believed to extend over more than 3,000,000 sq. m. Each of these continental fields, besides producing block as distinguished from tongue glaciers, sends into the sea a great number of icebergs during the summer season. These ice-caps covering great regions are by far the most important types. Between these "polar" or "continental glaciers" and the "alpine" type there are many grades. Smaller detached ice-caps may rest upon high plateaus as in Iceland, or several tongues of ice coming down neighbouring valleys may splay out into convergent lobes on lower ground and form a "piedmont glacier" such as the Malaspina Glacier in Alaska. When the snow-field lies in a small depression the glacier may remain suspended in the hollow and advance no farther than the edge of the snow-field. This is called a "cliff-glacier," and is not uncommon in mountain regions. The end of a larger glacier, or the edge of an ice-sheet, may reach a precipitous cliff, where the ice will break from the edge of the advancing mass and fall in blocks to the lower ground, where a "reconstructed glacier" will be formed from the fragments and advance farther down the slope.

When a glacier originates upon a dome-shaped or a level surface the ice will deploy radially in all directions. When a snow-field is formed above steep valleys separated by high ridges the ice will flow downwards in long streams. If the valleys under the snow-fields are wide and shallow the resultant glaciers will broaden out and partially fill them, and in all cases, since the conditions of glacier formation are similar, the resultant form and the direction of motion will depend upon the amount of ice and the form of the surface over which the glacier flows. A glacier flowing down a narrow gorge to an open valley, or on to a plain, will spread at its foot into a fan-shaped lobe as the ice spreads outwards while moving downwards. An ice-cap is in the main thickest at the centre, and thins out at the edges. A valley glacier is thickest at some point between its source and its end, but nearer to its source than to its termination, but its thickness at various portions will depend upon the contour of the valley floor over which the glacier rides, and may reach many hundreds of feet. At its centre the Greenland ice-cap is estimated to be over 5000 ft. thick. In all cases the glacier ends where the waste of ice is greater than the supply, and since the relationship varies in different years, or cycles of years, the end of a glacier may advance or retreat in harmony with greater or less snow-fall or with cooler or hotter summers. There seems to be a cycle of inclusive contraction and expansion of from 35 to 40 or 50 years. At present the ends of the Swiss glaciers are cradled in a mass of moraine-stuff due to former extension of the glaciers, and investigations in India show that in some parts of the Himalayas the glaciers are retreating as they are in North America and even in the southern hemisphere (Nature, January 2, 1908, p. 201).


The fact that a glacier moves is easily demonstrated; the cause of the movement is pressure upon a yielding mass; the nature of the movement is still under discussion. Rows of stakes or stones placed in line across a glacier are found to change their position with respect to objects on the bank and also with regard to each other. The posts in the centre of the ice-stream gradually move away from those at the side, proving that the centre moves faster than the sides. It has also been proved that the surface portions move more rapidly than the deeper layers and that the motion is slowest at the sides and bottom where friction is greatest.

The rate of motion past the same spot is not uniform. Heat accelerates it, cold arrests it, and the pressure of a large amount of water stimulates the flow. The rate of flow under the same conditions varies at different parts of the glacier directly as the thickness of ice, the steepness of slope and the smoothness of rocky floor. Generally speaking, the rate of motion depends upon the amount of ice that forms the "head" pressure, the slope of the under surface and of the upper surface, the nature of the floor, the temperature and the amount of water present in the ice. The ordinary rate of motion is very slow. In Switzerland it is from i or 2 in. to 4 ft. per day, in Alaska 7 ft., in Greenland 50 to 60 ft., and occasionally zoo ft. per day in the height of summer under exceptional conditions of quantity of ice and of water and slope. Measurements of Swiss glaciers show that near the ice foot where wastage is great there is very little movement, and observations upon the inland border of Greenland ice show that it is almost stationary over long distances. In many aspects the motion of a body of ice resembles that of a body of water, and an alpine glacier is often called an ice-river, since like a river it moves faster in the centre than at the sides and at the top faster than at the bottom. A glacier follows a curve in the same way as a river, and there appear to be ice swirls and eddies as well as an upward creep on shelving curves recalling many features of stream action. The rate of motion of both ice-stream and river is accelerated by quantity and steepness of slope and retarded by roughness of bed, but here the comparison ends, for temperature does not affect the rate of water motion, nor will a liquid crack into crevasses as a glacier does, or move upwards over an adverse slope as a glacier always does when there is sufficient "head" of ice above it. So that although in many respects ice behaves as a viscous fluid the comparison with such a fluid is not perfect. The cause of glacier motion must be based upon some more or less complex considerations. The flakes of snow are gradually transformed into granules because the points and angles of the original flakes melt and evaporate more readily than the more solid central portions, which become aggregated round some master flake that continues to grow in the neve at the expense of its smaller neighbours, and increases in size until finally the glacier ice is composed of a mass of interlocked crystalline granules, some as large as a walnut, closely compacted under pressure with the principal crystalline axes in various directions. In the upper portions of the glacier movement due to pressure probably takes place by the gliding of one granule over another. In this connexion it must be noted that pressure lowers the melting point of ice while tension raises it, and at all points of pressure there is therefore a tendency to momentary melting, and also to some evaporation due to the heat caused by pressure, and at the intermediate tension spaces between the points of pressure this resultant liquid and vapour will be at once re-frozen and become solid. The granular movement is thus greatly facilitated, while the body of ice remains in a crystalline solid condition. In this connexion it is well to remember that the pressure of the glacier upon its floor will have the same result, but the effect here is a mass-effect and facilitates the gliding of the ice over obstacles, since the friction produces heat and the pressure lowers the melting point, so that the two causes tend to liquefy the portion where pressure is greatest and so to "lubricate" the prominences and enable the glacier to slide more easily over them, while the liquid thus produced is re-frozen when the pressure is removed.

In polar regions of very low temperature a very considerable amount of pressure must be necessary before the ice granules yield to momentary liquefaction at the points of pressure, and this probably accounts for the extreme thickness of the Arctic and Antarctic ice-caps where the slopes are moderate, for although equally low temperatures are found in high Alpine snow-fields the slopes there are exceedingly steep and motion is therefore more easily produced.

Observations made upon the Greenland glaciers indicate a considerable amount of "shearing" movement in the lower portions of a glacier. Where obstacles in the bed of the glacier arrest the movement of the ice immediately above it, or where the lower portion of the glacier is choked by debris, the upper ice glides over the lower in shearing planes that are sometimes strongly marked by debris caught and pushed forwards along these planes of foliation. It must be remembered that there is a solid push from behind upon the lower portion of a glacier, quite different from the pressure of a body of water upon any point, for the pressure of a fluid is equal in all directions, and also that this push will tend to set the crystalline granules in positions in which their crystalline axes are parallel along the gliding planes. The production of gliding planes is in some cases facilitated by the descent into the glacier of water melted during summer, where it expands in freezing and pushes the adjacent ice away from it, forming a surface along which movement is readily established.

If under all circumstances the glacier melted under pressure at the bottom, glacial abrasion would be nearly impossible, since every small stone and fragment of rock would rotate in a liquid shell as the ice moved forward, but since the pressure is not always sufficient to produce melting, the glacier sometimes remains dry at its base; rock fragments are held firmly; and a dry glacier may thus become a graving tool of enormous power. Whatever views may be adopted as to the causes of glacier motion, the peculiar character of glacier ice as distinct from homogeneous river or pond ice must be kept in view, as well as the characteristic tendency of water to expand in freezing, the lowering of the melting point of ice under pressure, the raising of the melting point under tension, the production of gliding or shearing planes under pressure from above, the presence in summer of a considerable quantity of water in the lower portions of the glacier which are thus loosened, the cracking of ice (as into crevasses), under sudden strain, and the regelation of ice in contact. A result of this last process is that fissures are not permanent, but having been produced by the passage of ice over an obstruction, they subsequently become healed when the ice proceeds over a flatter bed. Finally it must be remembered that although glacier ice behaves in some sense like a viscous fluid its condition is totally different, since "glacier is a crystalline rock of the purest and simplest type, and it never has other than the crystalline state." Characteristics. - The general appearance of a glacier varies according to its environment of position and temperature. The upper portion is hidden by neve and often by freshly fallen. snow, and is smooth and unbroken. During the summer, when little snow falls, the body of the glacier moves away from the snow-field and a gaping crevasse of great depth is usually established called the bergschrund, which is sometimes taken as the upper limit of the glacier. The glacier as it moves down the valley may become "loaded" in various ways. Rock-falls send periodical showers of stones upon it from the heights, and these are spread out into long lines at the glacier sides as the ice moves downwards carrying the rock fragments with it. These are the "lateral moraines." When two or more glaciers descending adjacent valleys converge into one glacier one or more sides of the higher valleys disappear, and the ice that was contained in several valleys is now carried by one. In the simplest case where two valleys converge into one the two inner lateral moraines meet and continue to stream down the larger valley as one "median moraine." Where several valleys meet there are several such parallel median moraines, and so long as the ice remains unbroken these will be carried upon the surface of the glacier and finally tipped over the end. There is, however, differential heating of rock and ice, and if the stones carried are thin they tend to sink into the ice because they absorb heat readily and melt the ice under them. Dust has the same effect and produces "dust wells" that honeycomb the upper surface of the ice with holes into which the dust sinks. If the moraine rocks are thick they prevent the ice under them from melting in sunlight, and isolated blocks often remain supported upon ice-pillars in the form of ice tables, which finally collapse, so that such rocks may be scattered out of the line of the moraine. As the glacier descends into the lower valleys it is more strongly heated, and surface streams are established in consequence that flow into channels caused by unequal melting of the ice and finally plunge into crevasses. These crevasses are formed by strains established as the central parts drag away from the sides of the glacier and the upper surface from the lower, and more markedly by the tension due to a sudden bend in the glacier caused by an inequality in its bed which must be over-ridden. These crevasses are developed at right angles to the strain and often produce intersecting fissures in several directions. The morainic material is gradually dispersed by the inequalities produced, and is further distributed by the action of superficial streams until the whole surface is strewn with stones and debris, and presents, as in the lower portions of the Mer de Glace, an exceedingly dirty appearance. Many blocks of stone fall into the gaping crevasses and much loose rock is carried down as "englacial material" in the body of the glacier. Some of it reaches the bottom and becomes part of the "ground moraine" which underlies the glacier, at least from the bergschrund to the "snout," where much of it is carried away by the issuing stream and spread finally on to the plains below. It appears that a very considerable amount of degradation is caused under the bergschrund by the mass of ice "plucking" and dragging great blocks of rock from the side of the mountain valley where the great head of ice rests in winter and whence it begins to move in summer. These blocks and many smaller fragments are carried downwards wedged in the ice and cause powerful abrasion upon the rocky floor, rasping and scoring the channel, producing conspicuous striae, polishing and rounding the rock surfaces, and grinding the contained fragments as well as the surface over which it passes into small fragments and fine powder, from which "boulder clay" or "till" is finally produced. Emerging, then, from the snow-field as pure granular ice the glacier gradually becomes strewn and filled with foreign material, not only from above but also, as is very evident in some Greenland glaciers, occasionally from below by masses of fragments that move upwards along gliding planes, or are forced upwards by slow swirls in the ice itself.

As a glacier is a very brittle body any abrupt change in gradient will produce a number of crevasses, and these, together with those produced by dragging strains, will frequently wedge the glacier into a mass of pinnacles or seracs that may be partially healed but are usually evident when the melting end of the glacier emerges suddenly from a steep valley. Here the streams widen the weaker portions and the moraine rocks fall from the end to produce the "terminal" moraine, which usually lies in a crescentic heap encircling the glacier snout, whence it can only be moved by a further advance of the glacier or by the ordinary slow process of atmospheric denudation.

In cases where no rock falls upon the surface there is a considerable amount of englacial material due to upturning either over accumulated ground debris or over structural inequalities in the rock floor. This is well seen at the steep sides and ends of Greenland glaciers, where material frequently comes to the surface of the melting ice and produces median and lateral moraines, besides appearing in enormous "eyes" surrounded in the glacial body by contorted and foliated ice and sometimes producing heaps and embankments as it is pushed out at the end of the melting ice.

The environment of temperature requires consideration. At the upper or dorsal portion of the glacier there is a zone of variable (winter and summer) temperature, beneath which, if the ice is thick enough, there is a zone of constant temperature which will be about the mean annual temperature of the region of:the snow-field. Underlying this there is a more or less constant ventral or ground temperature, depending mainly upon the internal heat of the earth, which is conducted to the under surface of the glacier where it slowly melts the ice, the more readily because the pressure lowers the melting point considerably, so that streams of water run constantly from beneath many glaciers, adding their volume to the springs which issue from the rock. The middle zone of constant temperature is wedge-shaped in "alpine" glaciers, the apex pointing downwards to the zone of waste. The upper zone of variable temperature is thinnest in the snow-field where the mean temperature is lowest, and entirely dominant in the snout end of the glacier where the zone of constant temperature disappears. Two temperature wedges are thus superposed base to point, the one being thickest where the other is thinnest, and both these lie upon the basal film of temperature where the escaping earth-heat is strengthened by that due to friction and pressure. The cold wave of winter may pass right through a thin glacier, or the constant temperature may be too low to permit of the ice melting at the base, in which cases the glacier is "dry" and has great eroding power. But in the lower warmer portions water running through crevasses will raise the temperature, and increase the strength of the downward heat wave, while the mean annual temperature being there higher, the combined result will be that the glacier will gradually become "wet" at the base and have little eroding power, and it will become more and more wet as it moves down the lower valley zone of ice-waste, until at last the balance is reached between waste and supply and the glacier finally disappears.

If the mean annual temperature be 20° F., and the mean winter temperature be - 12° F., as in parts of Greenland, all the ice must be considerably below the melting point, since the pressure of ice a mile in depth lowers the melting point only to 30° F., and the earth-heat is only sufficient to melt 4 in. of ice in a year. Therefore in these regions, and in snow-fields and high glaciers with an equal or lower mean temperature than 20° F., the glacier will be "dry" throughout, which may account for the great eroding power stated to exist near the bergschrund in glaciers of an alpine type, which usually have their origin on precipitous slopes.

A considerable amount of ice-waste takes place by waterdrainage, though much is the result of constant evaporation from the ice surface. The lower end of a glacier is in summer flooded by streams of water that pour along cracks and plunge into crevasses, often forming "pot-holes" or moulins where stones are swirled round in a glacial "mill" and wear holes in the solid rock below. Some of these streams issue in a spout half way up the glacier's end wall, but the majority find their way through it and join the water running along the glacier floor and emerging where the glacier ends in a large glacial stream.

Results of Glacial Action

A glacier is a degrading and an aggrading agent. Much difference of opinion exists as to the potency of a glacier to alter surface features, some maintaining that it is extraordinarily effective, and considering that a valley glacier forms a pronounced cirque at the region of its origin and that the cirque is gradually cut backward until a long and deep valley is formed (which becomes evident, as in the Rocky Mountains, in an upper valley with "reversed grade" when the glacier disappears), and also that the end of a glacier plunging into a valley or a fjord will gouge a deep basin at its region of impact. The Alaskan and Norwegian fjords and the rock basins of the Scottish lochs are adduced as examples. Other writers maintain that a glacier is only a modifying and not a dominant agent in its effects upon the land-surface, considering, for example, that a glacier coming down a lateral valley will preserve the valley from the atmospheric denudation which has produced the main valley over which the lateral valley "hangs," a result which the believers in strong glacial action hold to be due to the more powerful action of the main glacier as contrasted with the weaker action of that in the lateral valley. Both the advocates and the opponents of strenuous ice action agree that a V-shaped valley of stream erosion is converted to a U-shaped valley of glacial modification, and that rock surfaces are rounded into roches moutonnees, and are grooved and striated by the passage of ice shod with fragments of rock, while the subglacial material is ground into finer and finer fragments until it becomes mud and "rock-flour" as the glacier proceeds. In any case striking results are manifest in any formerly glaciated region. The high peaks rise into pinnacles, and ridges with "house-roof" structure, above the former glacier, while below it the contours are all rounded and typically subdued. A landscape that was formerly completely covered by a moving ice-cap has none but these rounded features of dome-shaped hills and U-shaped valleys that at least bear evidence to the great modifying power that a glacier has upon a landscape.

There is no conflict of opinion with regard to glacial aggradation and the distribution of superglacial, englacial and subglacial material, which during the active existence of a glacier is finally distributed by glacial streams that produce very considerable alluviation. In many regions which were covered by the Pleistocene ice-sheet the work of the glacier was arrested by melting before it was half done. Great deposits of till and boulder clay that lay beneath the glaciers were abandoned in situ, and remain as an unsorted mixture of large boulders, pebbles and mingled fragments, embedded in clay or sand. The lateral, median and terminal moraines were stranded where they sank as the ice disappeared, and together with perched blocks (roches perchdes) remain as a permanent record of former conditions which are now found to have existed temporarily in much earlier geological times. In glaciated North America lateral moraines are found that are 500 to 1000 ft. high and in northern Italy 1500 to 2000 ft. high. The surface of the ground in all these places is modified into the characteristic glaciated landscape, and many formerly deep valleys are choked with glacial debris either completely changing the local drainage systems, or compelling the reappearing streams to cut new channels in a superposed drainage system. Kames also and eskers (q.v.) are left under certain conditions, with many puzzling deposits that are clearly due to some features of ice-work not thoroughly understood.

See L. Agassiz, Etudes sur les glaciers (Neuchatel, 1840) and Nouvelles Etudes ... (Paris, 1847); N. S. Shaler and W. M. Davis, Glaciers (Boston, 1881); A. Penck, Die Begletscherung der deutschen Alpen (Leipzig, 1882); J. Tyndall, The Glaciers of the Alps (London, 1896); T. G. Bonney, Ice-Work, Past and Present (London, 1896); I. C. Russell, Glaciers of North America (Boston, 1897); E. Richter, Neue Ergebnisse and Probleme der Gletscherforschung (Vienna, 1899); F. Forel, Essai sur les variations periodiques des glaciers (Geneva, 1881 and 1900); H. Hess, Die Gletscher (Brunswick, 1904). (E. C. SP.)

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Simple English

File:Baltoro glacier from
The Baltoro Glacier in the Karakoram Mountains, Pakistan-administered Kashmir. 62 kilometres (39 mi) in length, one of the longest alpine-type glaciers on Earth
File:Grosser Aletschgletscher
Aletsch Glacier, Switzerland, the largest glacier in the European Alps
File:Glaciers and Icebergs at Cape
Icebergs breaking off glaciers at Cape York, Greenland

A glacier is a large body of ice and snow. A glacier forms because in a particular spot, the snow does not all melt in summer. Each winter more snow is added, and the weight of all the snow creates pressure that turns the lower parts into ice. After many years of this happening, the glacier will start growing very big .It becomes so heavy that gravity makes the ice flow downwards like water, just much more slowly - only about 50 metres (164.04 feet) per year. New snowfalls replace the parts that flow away.[1][2]

Glaciers will only form in places that are cold enough and get enough snow over time. This can take a long time, normally hundreds or thousands of years. There are two kinds of glaciers: continental glaciers and alpine, or mountain, glaciers.

Continental glaciers are glaciers that spread out over a lot of land. They showed up mostly during the Ice Ages a long time ago, but there are still some continental glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica. They often flow downwards into the sea, where they break up. The broken parts that float in the sea are called icebergs.

Alpine glaciers are smaller than continental glaciers and form in mountain areas. They usually flow down until they reach a point where it's so warm that the ice melts completely during the summer.

Glaciers are very important because they affect the environment a lot. They do this because they are very big and heavy, so they erode mountains and land when they move and scratch the rock they sit on. Also, since they froze long ago, snow crystals and air bubbles inside are kept in good condition for scientists to look at. Nowadays, glaciers have been melting more than they used to because the climate is changing and global warming is happening.[3]

Glaciers are the largest deposits of fresh water on Earth. The largest bodies of salt water are the oceans.

Glaciers appear blue in color because water (including the frozen water that makes up glaciers) is very good at absorbing light. Only the strongest light with the most energy is able to escape. Blue is the color of light that has the most energy, so blue is the only color of light that can escape without being absorbed. The thicker the glacier is, the more blue it appears.

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  1. Hambrey, Michael; Alean, Jürg (2004). Glaciers (2nd ed. ed.). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-82808-2. OCLC 54371738. 
  2. Benn, Douglas I.; Evans, David J.A. (1999). Glaciers and glaciation. Arnold. ISBN 0470236515. OCLC 38329570. 
  3. * Bennett, M.R.; Glasser N.F. (1996). Glacial geology: ice sheets and landforms. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0471963445. OCLC 37536152 33359888 37536152. 

Uncited references

  • Walley, Robert (1992). Introduction to physical geography. Wm. C. Brown. 


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