Glacier. I INTRODUCTION Glacier, an enduring accumulation of ice, snow, water, rock, and sediment that moves under the influence of gravity. Glaciers form where the temperature is low enough to allow falling snow to accumulate and slowly transform into ice. This accumulation is most common in the polar regions, but can also occur at high altitudes on mountains even near the equator. Glaciers are complex systems that grow and shrink in response to climate. At the present, glacier ice covers about 15 million sq km (5.8 million sq mi), or 10 percent, of Earth's land area. Glaciers occur on all continents except Australia. Antarctica and the North American island of Greenland have the largest continuous ice masses. Ice covers their land areas almost completely. About 80 percent of the fresh water on Earth is frozen in ice sheets and glaciers. If all of this ice melted, sea level would rise by about 60 m (200 ft). Much of the world's population resides in coastal areas that would be underwater. Glaciers are an intriguing part of Earth's natural environment and their majestic beauty in wild and inaccessible mountain settings is unparalleled. II TYPES OF GLACIERS Glaciers occur in many different forms and locations, from the big ice sheet that covers the entire continent of Antarctica to the small valley glaciers that are present in many parts of the world. They are generally divided into several categories depending on their size and location. Glaciers categorized by size include ice fields, ice caps, and ice sheets. Glaciers categorized by location include alpine, valley, and piedmont glaciers. A Ice Sheets, Ice Caps, and Ice Fields Ice sheets are the largest ice masses found on Earth, covering huge land areas. The ice sheet in Antarctica covers 13 million sq km (5 million sq mi). It is over 4 km (14,000 ft) thick and its weight has depressed the continent below sea level in many places. If this weight were removed, the continent would slowly rise and readjust itself, as Europe still does after the melting of the ice sheet that covered that continent during the last ice age. Antarctica's ice sheet and the similar but smaller ice sheet that covers Greenland both flow slowly downslope. Embedded in these flows are fast outlet glaciers that break up when they reach the ocean, forming large icebergs. The largest outlet glacier, the Lambert Glacier in Antarctica, is 40 km (25 mi) wide and 400 km (250 mi) long, draining one million sq km (about 400,000 sq mi) of eastern Antarctica. The iceberg that sank the Titanic originated with an outlet glacier in Greenland. Ice caps are smaller than ice sheets. They form when snow and ice fill a basin or cover a plateau to a considerable depth. There are many ice caps in the Canadian Arctic, Alaska, and other heavily glaciated areas. When these ice caps become thick enough, tongues of ice overflow the basins and discharge ice through valley glaciers. Ice fields develop where large interconnecting valley glaciers are separated by mountain peaks and ridges that project through the ice. These exposed rock features in the surrounding ice are called nunataks, an Inuit word. Ice fields are common in Alaska, where they occupy up to 4,000 sq km (1,500 sq mi) each. B Valley, Alpine, and Piedmont Glaciers Valley glaciers flow from ice caps or originate in high mountain basins where snow accumulates. They can erode the landscape very effectively, producing U-shaped valleys in their descent. These U-shaped valleys are a common feature in many landscapes that were once glaciated and that remain after the glacier is gone. Some of these valley glaciers can be up to 1,000 m (3,000 ft) thick and 160 km (100 mi) long, but most extend only a few miles. Alpine glaciers are also sometimes called mountain or cirque glaciers. They are located high up in the mountains and tend to be smaller than valley glaciers. A cirque is a rounded bowl-shaped depression in which snow accumulates easily. Ice flows out over a lip in the cirque and often cascades down into valley glaciers through icefalls or terminates halfway in steep hanging glaciers. Piedmont glaciers are broad lobe-shaped ice masses that form when one or more valley glaciers flow from a confined valley and spread over low-lying slopes below the mountains. There are two good examples of piedmont glaciers in Alaska, the Malaspina and Bering glaciers. Each covers more than 2,000 sq km (800 sq mi). The Malaspina glacier is larger than the state of Rhode Island. C Rock Glaciers Rock glaciers are an entirely different type of glacier in which rock, not ice, is the main material. They resemble regular glaciers in shape but no ice is visible. Ice fills the space between the rocks, however, and allows the glacier to move downslope, although only very slowly. III GLACIAL FORMATION AND MOVEMENT Glaciers wax and wane not only with long-term climate change but also on a seasonal basis. Snow falls in winter, accumulates, and slowly turns to ice when it is compressed by additional snow loads. In summer the upper snow layers thaw and meltwater runs off; this loss is called ablation. The glacier's mass balance or budget then turns from positive to negative as it loses mass. The balance is neutral or in equilibrium from year to year if the glacier does not experience any mass loss or gain. A complex series of processes determines the glacier's health. A Transformation of Snow to Ice Snow falls as small crystals on a glacier and accumulates if temperatures are below freezing. These snow crystals are found in an infinite variety of hexagonal shapes that are formed when the hydrogen and oxygen atoms of water arrange themselves in a six-sided symmetry upon freezing. Under the weight of successive snowfalls the snow is compressed. Snow crystals settle and change shape and size as the weight packs them closer and closer together. Air passages between crystals disappear and only small air bubbles remain. The snow has now turned into ice with a density of 820 kg per cu m (1,380 lb per cu yd). As snow piles up, the ice crystals that at the surface were smaller than a millimeter (0.04 in) merge, growing to 3 to 5 cm in size (1.2 to 2 in) or even larger. B The Anatomy of a Glacier Most glaciers have two parts, an accumulation area and an ablation or wastage area. In the accumulation area snowfall exceeds melting in each year. In the ablation area melting exceeds snowfall. The boundary between the two areas is called the annual snowline or sometimes the firn limit. In winter most glaciers are entirely snow- covered. In spring the snow cover begins to melt in the lower reaches, exposing the ice surface. As temperatures increase, the melting moves up the glacier. The snowline is the highest position the melting reaches during the year. Firn is old granular snow. The firn limit may not exactly coincide with the annual snowline since in some years rapid melting leaves behind firn patches below the snowline. Some glaciers exhibit features called ice streams and icefalls. Ice streams are valley glaciers that form tributaries to a common compound glacier that fills a valley. The tributary glaciers do not intermix but maintain their individual streams of ice, despite compression and extension as they move along side by side. The streams can easily be recognized as individual ice streams by the deposits of boulders, gravel, sand, and mud that separate them. Icefalls occur where a glacier flows over very steep terrain that accelerates the flow. The ice is stretched and fractures into large blocks and a maze of ice pinnacles called séracs and cracks called crevasses. Icefalls are spectacular features that can extend over the entire width of the glacier and over a height of up to a kilometer (3,300 ft). Ogives, regular undulations in height on the surface of the ice, form below icefalls. Scientists believe different rates of flow in summer and winter create ogives, and that ogives therefore present some indication of annual ice movement. C Glacier Movement Although ice is normally brittle, it can flow under pressure. The speed at which glaciers move depends on a number of factors, including their temperature, the amount of meltwater at the bottom of the ice, the steepness of the slope, and the nature of the rock surface over which they move. The big ice sheets move by internal deformation as ice building up in the middle forces the edges to expand. Valley glaciers move by sliding over their rock beds. Friction with the ground produces heat that in turn melts ice and helps to lubricate the sliding. Measurements of glacier movement indicate that they move fastest in the middle of the glacier where the ice is thickest. Valley glaciers typically sustain velocities of 30 to 60 cm (1 to 2 ft) per day or 100 to 200 m (300 to 700 ft) per year, but some can reach speeds of 3 to 6 m (10 to 20 ft) per day. On the large outlet glaciers in Greenland velocities of over 30 m (100 ft) per day have been measured. Short-term advances in so-called galloping or surging glaciers can reach 80 m (250 ft) per day. As glaciers move downslope they twist and stretch. This may cause the ice to crack, forming crevasses that can be more than 30 to 40 m (100 to 130 ft) deep and up to tens of meters wide. Freshly formed crevasses have clean, straight sides. Over time, crevasses deform and may be covered over by snow bridges when drifting and blowing snow accumulates on their lips. Vehicles or people traveling on the snow's surface can fall through the snow into a crevasse. Scientists measure the thickness and movement of glaciers using a variety of methods, including conventional surveying techniques to record the movement of marker stakes drilled into the ice. The latest techniques use lasers on aircraft to determine height changes, and satellite interferometry for movement. Ice thickness was previously measured through seismic methods in which the time it takes for a sound wave from an explosion at the surface to travel to bedrock and back was recorded. More recently radio echo sounding--bouncing radio waves from aircraft from both the surface and bedrock of the glaciers--has replaced seismic methods. Once they gather information on how the thickness and rate of movement of a glacier vary over time, scientists can calculate the glacier's mass balance. The enormity of the ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland, however, make it difficult to accurately determine mass balances in those locations. IV EFFECTS OF GLACIERS ON LAND Glaciers are very effective agents in shaping Earth's surface. Wherever glaciers flow the topography is changed. Glaciers erode material as they move, and deposit that material farther along their paths, forming a number of easily recognizable features that are characteristic of areas that were once glaciated. A Glacial Erosion Glaciers typically gouge out U-shaped valleys. Glaciers sometimes create these valleys near the coast. When the ice retreats from these coastal valleys, it leaves behind fjords, narrow inlets flanked by steep mountains on either side. Horns, arêtes, and cirques are the most common features of exposed rock seen in recently deglaciated areas. Arêtes (from the French word for fish bones) form when glaciers erode ridges separating two glaciers and produce a narrow, sharp and jagged ridge line. When four glaciers erode a mountain on all sides a pyramidal mountain peak remains, called a horn; the best known of these is the Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps. Roches moutonnées, a French term literally translated as "fleecy rocks," implying grazing sheep, emerge as large rounded bedrocks when a glacier recedes. These rocks are produced by glaciers flowing over the rocks, grinding them down. As glaciers recede they leave a sharply defined boundary on the sides of valleys. These boundaries are called trimlines and are marked by sudden changes between the presence and absence of vegetation and of unweathered and weathered rock. Striations (grooves) on flat rock surfaces also appear as glaciers recede. They are produced as glaciers drag and grind rock debris over the surface of underlying bedrock. From these striations the direction of glacier movement can be deduced. B Glacial Deposits As glaciers move over bedrock they scrape and abrade its surface, producing fine-grained rock flour. Glaciers can also pluck away rocks up to boulder size and transport and deposit them along the margins of the glacier down in the valleys. The glaciers deposit these materials as till, a sediment consisting of mud, sand, gravel, and boulders. Much of this material is deposited in long mounds called moraines. Lateral moraines are formed on each side of a valley glacier where abraded sediment and plucked rocks are deposited. These moraines are often preserved when glaciers melt and can indicate previous glacier heights. Medial moraines separate tributary glaciers that flow into a compound valley glacier. Terminal or end moraines mark the farthest distance down a valley that a glacier has reached in its advance. Recessional moraines indicate to where glaciers advanced and remained stationary for some time in the past. Both terminal and recessional moraines can dam meltwater streams, forming glacial lakes. Glaciers also deposit a blanket of till that forms a ground moraine on the surfaces over which the glacier flowed. Material eroded by glaciers is also transported by running water and deposited on gentle slopes in front of the glacier. These slopes are called outwash plains. Occasionally large blocks of ice are left behind on the outwash plain by a retreating glacier or are washed out onto the plain by jokulhlaups, outburst floods from icedammed glacial lakes caused by the collapse of the ice dam. These blocks of ice slowly melt and form depressions called kettles. Another deposit called kame is formed when running water comes into contact with stagnant ice. These deposits form within cracks, holes, and crevasses. Kame terraces form between glaciers and the valley walls that enclose them and can sometimes be mistaken for lateral moraines. Running water under glaciers can erode channels that fill with sediments. When the ice melts, the deposits remain as winding ridges called eskers that can be up to 30 m (100 ft) high. Drumlins are clusters of elongated hills of till, oriented parallel to the direction of ice movement and laid down near the margins of large ice sheets as they retreat. V GLACIERS AND CLIMATE CHANGE Glaciers are very sensitive to climate change. Their size, life span, and history of growth and retreat all depend strongly on climate conditions. Since they are so sensitive to climatic changes they also serve as good indicators of change. A glacier's accumulation and ablation, or gain and loss of mass, are primarily dependent on temperature and precipitation, but also on solar radiation, humidity, and wind speed. Location, orientation, and exposure of the glacier are also important, particularly for the smaller valley glaciers. The energy budget or balance of a glacier's surface reflects how much heat energy is received or lost from a glacier and whether evaporation or melting can occur. The energy budget explains in quantitative terms what is termed the microclimate of a glacier. Many glaciologists (scientists who study glaciers) believe that the current worldwide retreat of glaciers is influenced by global warming. They believe global warming is caused by the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere since humans began using fossil fuels during the Industrial Revolution. Higher average temperatures are causing glaciers to melt faster than they can be replenished by winter snows. The World Glacier Monitoring Service studies whether glaciers are retreating or advancing by measuring their mass balance. A negative mass balance indicates that the glacier is in retreat, and a positive mass balance shows that the glacier is advancing. The monitoring service studied 30 glaciers in nine mountain ranges, including ranges in North and South America, Europe, and Asia, from 1980 to 2004. It found that the mean mass balance of those glaciers has been continuously negative since 1990. It is more difficult for scientists to measure the mass balance of ice sheets, such as those on Greenland and Antarctica. However, satellite images of the ice sheets can track their growth and recession over the years. These data can furnish clues about current climate conditions and whether winter snows are replenishing ice that melted in the summer. In 2006, in the first comprehensive satellite study of Antarctica, scientists reported that the continent's ice sheets were melting faster than they could be replenished at a rate of 150 cu km (36 cu mi) per year. A similar satellite study found that Greenland's ice sheet was losing at least 200 cu km (48 cu mi) of ice each year. More worrisome to scientists was the finding in 2006 that as the ice sheets melt, they flow more quickly to the ocean than scientists had previously estimated. The Jakobshavn outlet glacier on Greenland's west coast, for example, is moving toward the ocean at a rate of 35 m (114 ft) a year, compared to the typical glacial speed of 0.3 m (1 ft) per year. Scientists theorize that melting ice flows into crevasses that reach to the bottom of the ice sheet, where the ice meets surface rock. The meltwater apparently acts as a lubricant. Rivers of meltwater slightly lift the ice sheet, which slides more quickly toward the ocean. Some scientists have compared the movement to that of a conveyor belt. Seismic data appear to support the theory because earthquake-like tremors in Greenland are five times more frequent in the summer than in the winter. This development is worrisome for two reasons. First, the ice that reaches the sea falls into the ocean as icebergs, which then melt and raise sea levels. Secondly, the melting ice adds enormous amounts of freshwater to the salty oceans. Freshwater is not as dense as saltwater and so does not sink. Adding large amounts of freshwater to the oceans can influence currents, such as the Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream is driven by salty water sinking off Greenland and flowing south at deep ocean depths. This current then pushes warm water to the surface, and the warm water current then flows north. The Gulf Stream is responsible for keeping Europe warmer during the winter than it would otherwise be. Not only do the large ice sheets provide information about current climate conditions, but also they can reveal data about climate conditions in the past hundreds of thousands of years. Cores drilled deep down into the ice in Greenland and Antarctica allow the reconstruction of past climates because the analysis of successively deeper layers of ice yields information such as the atmospheric temperature at the time the ice was first deposited as snow. Dust layers from known volcanic eruptions provide reliable age determinations; ice that lies beneath a known dust layer is older, while dust that lies above is younger. Analysis of the ice itself and of the air bubbles trapped in the ice allows deductions about the composition of the atmosphere at the time the ice was deposited. For example, in 2005 scientists drilled an ice core into the Antarctic ice sheet that was about 3 km (2 mi) deep. The oldest ice samples they recovered were formed about 650,000 years ago. The samples showed that levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, were significantly higher today than they were 650,000 years ago. Carbon dioxide was 27 percent higher, and methane, which is a more powerful greenhouse gas because it can absorb more infrared radiation, was 130 percent higher. VI HISTORY OF GLACIATION ON EARTH Historical climate records generally do not go back more than 2,000 years, but past climates can be reconstructed from many different sources of evidence. Tree rings, for example, can provide information on climate during the past 1,000 years; ice cores can cover the past 100,000 years; lake sediments furnish evidence stretching back as much as a million years; and marine sediments can yield data covering the past 10 million years. Scientists have used a combination of this evidence to determine that ice ages, cold periods when Earth's temperature is about 8°C (14°F) colder than during the warm, so-called interglacial periods, occur at roughly 100,000-year intervals. They believe that cycles of changes in the distribution of sunlight due to long-term variations in Earth's orbit and the inclination of its spin axis to the Sun cause ice ages. These cycles are known as Milankovich cycles, named for the Serbian mathematician who first computed them. Earth is now in a warm interglacial period and ice covers only about 10 percent of the land surface, compared with 30 percent during the last ice age. During the last ice age, however, ice covered nearly 30 percent of the land. At its peak about 18,000 years ago ice sheets a kilometer thick covered most of North America and Europe. When the ice melted sea level rose by tens of meters, flooding large areas including the Bering land bridge that had served as a migration corridor for people moving into North America from Asia. During the present warm interglacial period these two large ice sheets have disappeared and glaciers worldwide have generally shrunk, some quite dramatically. At the end of the last ice age, about 13,000 years ago, the climate was beginning to warm and glaciers were retreating during a period called the Bolling-Allerod when the climate suddenly plunged back to ice-age conditions. This 1,300-year-long cold period is named the Younger Dryas because the polar wildflower Dryas octopetala had a resurgence in Europe during this period. Temperatures in Greenland dropped by about 7°C (13°F), back to full ice-age conditions, and glaciers advanced to cover the island. At the end of the Younger Dryas the climate returned to warmer and wetter interglacial conditions. Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2009. © 1993-2008 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.