Glaciology is the study of glacier
A glacier is a large persistent body of ice that forms where the accumulation of snow exceeds its ablation over many years, often centuries. At least 0.1 km² in area and 50 m thick, but often much larger, a glacier slowly deforms and flows due to stresses induced by its weight...

s, or more generally ice
Ice is water frozen into the solid state. Usually ice is the phase known as ice Ih, which is the most abundant of the varying solid phases on the Earth's surface. It can appear transparent or opaque bluish-white color, depending on the presence of impurities or air inclusions...

 and natural phenomena that involve ice.

Glaciology is an interdisciplinary earth science
Earth science
Earth science is an all-embracing term for the sciences related to the planet Earth. It is arguably a special case in planetary science, the Earth being the only known life-bearing planet. There are both reductionist and holistic approaches to Earth sciences...

 that integrates geophysics
Geophysics is the physics of the Earth and its environment in space; also the study of the Earth using quantitative physical methods. The term geophysics sometimes refers only to the geological applications: Earth's shape; its gravitational and magnetic fields; its internal structure and...

, geology
Geology is the science comprising the study of solid Earth, the rocks of which it is composed, and the processes by which it evolves. Geology gives insight into the history of the Earth, as it provides the primary evidence for plate tectonics, the evolutionary history of life, and past climates...

, physical geography
Physical geography
Physical geography is one of the two major subfields of geography. Physical geography is that branch of natural science which deals with the study of processes and patterns in the natural environment like the atmosphere, biosphere and geosphere, as opposed to the cultural or built environment, the...

, geomorphology
Geomorphology is the scientific study of landforms and the processes that shape them...

, climatology
Climatology is the study of climate, scientifically defined as weather conditions averaged over a period of time, and is a branch of the atmospheric sciences...

, meteorology
Meteorology is the interdisciplinary scientific study of the atmosphere. Studies in the field stretch back millennia, though significant progress in meteorology did not occur until the 18th century. The 19th century saw breakthroughs occur after observing networks developed across several countries...

, hydrology
Hydrology is the study of the movement, distribution, and quality of water on Earth and other planets, including the hydrologic cycle, water resources and environmental watershed sustainability...

, biology
Biology is a natural science concerned with the study of life and living organisms, including their structure, function, growth, origin, evolution, distribution, and taxonomy. Biology is a vast subject containing many subdivisions, topics, and disciplines...

, and ecology
Ecology is the scientific study of the relations that living organisms have with respect to each other and their natural environment. Variables of interest to ecologists include the composition, distribution, amount , number, and changing states of organisms within and among ecosystems...

. The impact of glaciers on people includes the fields of human geography
Human geography
Human geography is one of the two major sub-fields of the discipline of geography. Human geography is the study of the world, its people, communities, and cultures. Human geography differs from physical geography mainly in that it has a greater focus on studying human activities and is more...

 and anthropology
Anthropology is the study of humanity. It has origins in the humanities, the natural sciences, and the social sciences. The term "anthropology" is from the Greek anthrōpos , "man", understood to mean mankind or humanity, and -logia , "discourse" or "study", and was first used in 1501 by German...

. The discoveries of water ice on the Moon
The Moon is Earth's only known natural satellite,There are a number of near-Earth asteroids including 3753 Cruithne that are co-orbital with Earth: their orbits bring them close to Earth for periods of time but then alter in the long term . These are quasi-satellites and not true moons. For more...

, Mars
Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun in the Solar System. The planet is named after the Roman god of war, Mars. It is often described as the "Red Planet", as the iron oxide prevalent on its surface gives it a reddish appearance...

 and Europa
Europa (moon)
Europa Slightly smaller than Earth's Moon, Europa is primarily made of silicate rock and probably has an iron core. It has a tenuous atmosphere composed primarily of oxygen. Its surface is composed of ice and is one of the smoothest in the Solar System. This surface is striated by cracks and...

 add an extraterrestrial component to the field, as in "astroglaciology".


Areas of study within glaciology include glacial history and the reconstruction of past glaciation. A glaciologist is a person who studies glaciers. Glaciology is one of the key areas of polar research.
A glacier is an extended mass of ice formed from snow falling and accumulating over the years and moving very slowly, either descending from high mountains, as in valley glaciers, or moving outward from centers of accumulation, as in continental glaciers.


There are two general categories of glaciation which glaciologists distinguish: alpine glaciation, accumulations or "rivers of ice" confined to valleys; and continental glaciation, unrestricted accumulations which once covered much of the northern continents.
  • Alpine - ice flows down the valleys of mountainous areas and forms a tongue of ice moving towards the plains below. Alpine glaciers tend to make the topography
    Topography is the study of Earth's surface shape and features or those ofplanets, moons, and asteroids...

     more rugged, by adding and improving the scale of existing features such as large ravines called cirque
    Cirque may refer to:* Cirque, a geological formation* Makhtesh, an erosional landform found in the Negev desert of Israel and Sinai of Egypt*Cirque , an album by Biosphere* Cirque Corporation, a company that makes touchpads...

    and ridges where the rims of two cirques meet called arête
    Areté is the term meaning "virtue" or "excellence", from Greek ἈρετήArete may also be used:*as a given name of persons or things:**Queen Arete , a character in Homer's Odyssey.***197 Arete, an asteroid....

  • Continental - an ice sheet found today, only in high latitudes (Greenland
    Greenland is an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark, located between the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, east of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Though physiographically a part of the continent of North America, Greenland has been politically and culturally associated with Europe for...

    /Antarctica), thousands of square kilometers in area and thousands of meters thick. These tend to smooth out the landscapes.

Zones of glaciers

  • Accumulation, where the formation of ice is faster than its removal.
  • Wastage or Ablation, where the sum of melting and evaporation (sublimation) is greater than the amount of snow added each year.


Ablation is removal of material from the surface of an object by vaporization, chipping, or other erosive processes. This occurs in spaceflight during ascent and atmospheric reentry, glaciology, medicine, and passive fire protection.-Spaceflight:...

 : wastage of the glacier through sublimation, ice melting and iceberg calving
Ice calving
Ice calving, also known as glacier calving or iceberg calving, is a form of ice ablation or ice disruption. It is the sudden release and breaking away of a mass of ice from a glacier, iceberg, ice front, ice shelf, or crevasse...

Ablation zone
Ablation zone
Ablation zone refers to the low altitude area of a glacier or ice sheet where there is a net loss in ice mass due to melting, sublimation, evaporation, or calving. The ablation zone is delineated by the equilibrium line altitude , or snow line, which separates the ablation zone and the high...

 :Area of a glacier in which the annual loss of ice through ablation exceeds the annual gain from precipitation
Precipitation (meteorology)
In meteorology, precipitation In meteorology, precipitation In meteorology, precipitation (also known as one of the classes of hydrometeors, which are atmospheric water phenomena is any product of the condensation of atmospheric water vapor that falls under gravity. The main forms of precipitation...

Arete (landform)
thumb|right|[[Clouds Rest]] in [[Yosemite National Park]] is an arete.An arête is a thin, almost knife-like, ridge of rock which is typically formed when two glaciers erode parallel U-shaped valleys. The arête is a thin ridge of rock that is left separating the two valleys...

 : an acute ridge of rock where two cirques abut.
Bergshrund : crevasse formed near the head of a glacier, where the mass of ice has rotated, sheared and torn itself apart in the manner of a geological fault.
Cirque may refer to:* Cirque, a geological formation* Makhtesh, an erosional landform found in the Negev desert of Israel and Sinai of Egypt*Cirque , an album by Biosphere* Cirque Corporation, a company that makes touchpads...

, corrie or cwm : bowl shaped depression excavated by the source of a glacier.
Creep (deformation)
In materials science, creep is the tendency of a solid material to slowly move or deform permanently under the influence of stresses. It occurs as a result of long term exposure to high levels of stress that are below the yield strength of the material....

 : adjustment to stress
Stress (physics)
In continuum mechanics, stress is a measure of the internal forces acting within a deformable body. Quantitatively, it is a measure of the average force per unit area of a surface within the body on which internal forces act. These internal forces are a reaction to external forces applied on the body...

 at a molecular
A molecule is an electrically neutral group of at least two atoms held together by covalent chemical bonds. Molecules are distinguished from ions by their electrical charge...

Fluid mechanics
Fluid mechanics is the study of fluids and the forces on them. Fluid mechanics can be divided into fluid statics, the study of fluids at rest; fluid kinematics, the study of fluids in motion; and fluid dynamics, the study of the effect of forces on fluid motion...

 : movement (of ice) in a constant direction.
A fracture is the separation of an object or material into two, or more, pieces under the action of stress.The word fracture is often applied to bones of living creatures , or to crystals or crystalline materials, such as gemstones or metal...

 : brittle failure (breaking of ice) under the stress raised when movement is too rapid to be accommodated by creep. It happens for example, as the central part of a glacier moves faster than the edges.
Pyramidal peak
A pyramidal peak, or sometimes in its most extreme form called a glacial horn, is a mountaintop that has been modified by the action of ice during glaciation and frost weathering...

 : spire of rock formed by the headward erosion
Headward erosion
Headward erosion is a fluvial process of erosion that lengthens a stream, a valley or a gully at its head and also enlarges its drainage basin. The stream erodes away at the rock and soil at its headwaters in the opposite direction that it flows. Once a stream has begun to cut back, the erosion is...

 of a ring of cirques around a single mountain. It is an extreme case of an arête.
Plucking (glaciation)
Glacial plucking exploits pre-existing fractures in the bedrock. This plays a key role in opening and creating new fractures but has only provided small segments of loose material. This is then followed by the entrainment of the loosened rock by the ice. During the process of entrainment, loose...

/Quarrying : where the adhesion
Adhesion is any attraction process between dissimilar molecular species that can potentially bring them in close contact. By contrast, cohesion takes place between similar molecules....

 of the ice to the rock is stronger than the cohesion
Cohesion may refer to:* Cohesion , the intermolecular attraction between like-molecules* Cohesion , a measure of how well the lines of source code within a module work together...

 of the rock, part of the rock leaves with the flowing ice.
Tarn (lake)
A tarn is a mountain lake or pool, formed in a cirque excavated by a glacier. A moraine may form a natural dam below a tarn. A corrie may be called a cirque.The word is derived from the Old Norse word tjörn meaning pond...

 : a lake formed in the bottom of a cirque when its glacier has melted.
Tunnel valley
Tunnel valley
A tunnel valley is a large, long, U-shaped valley originally cut under the glacial ice near the margin of continental ice sheets such as that now covering Antarctica and formerly covering portions of all continents during past glacial ages....

 : The tunnel is that formed by hydraulic erosion of ice and rock below an ice sheet margin. The tunnel valley is what remains of it in the underlying rock when the ice sheet has melted.


Outwash sand/gravel : from front of glaciers, found on a plain
Kettle (geology)
A kettle is a shallow, sediment-filled body of water formed by retreating glaciers or draining floodwaters.-Overview:...

 : block of stagnant ice leaves a depression or pit
An esker is a long winding ridge of stratified sand and gravel, examples of which occur in glaciated and formerly glaciated regions of Europe and North America...

s : steep sided ridges of gravel/sand, possibly caused by streams running under stagnant ice
A kame is a geological feature, an irregularly shaped hill or mound composed of sand, gravel and till that accumulates in a depression on a retreating glacier, and is then deposited on the land surface with further melting of the glacier...

s : stratified drift builds up low steep hills
A varve is an annual layer of sediment or sedimentary rock.The word 'varve' is derived from the Swedish word varv whose meanings and connotations include 'revolution', 'in layers', and 'circle'. The term first appeared as Hvarfig lera on the first map produced by the Geological Survey of Sweden in...

s : alternating thin sedimentary beds (coarse and fine) of a proglacial lake
Proglacial lake
In geology, a proglacial lake is a lake formed either by the damming action of a moraine or ice dam during the retreat of a melting glacier, or by meltwater trapped against an ice sheet due to isostatic depression of the crust around the ice...

. Summer conditions deposit more and coarser material and those of the winter, less and finer.


thumb|right|Closeup of glacial till. Note that the larger grains in the till are completely surrounded by the matrix of finer material , and this characteristic, known as matrix support, is diagnostic of till....

-unsorted : (glacial flour to boulders) deposited by receding/advancing glaciers, forming moraines, and drumlins
A moraine is any glacially formed accumulation of unconsolidated glacial debris which can occur in currently glaciated and formerly glaciated regions, such as those areas acted upon by a past glacial maximum. This debris may have been plucked off a valley floor as a glacier advanced or it may have...

s : (Terminal) material deposited at the end; (Ground) material deposited as glacier melts; (lateral) material deposited along the sides.
A drumlin, from the Irish word droimnín , first recorded in 1833, is an elongated whale-shaped hill formed by glacial ice acting on underlying unconsolidated till or ground moraine.-Drumlin formation:...

s : smooth elongated hills composed of till.
Ribbed moraines
Ribbed moraines
A Rogen moraine is a subglacially formed type of moraine landform, that mainly occur in Fennoscandia, Scotland, Ireland and Canada. They cover large areas that have been covered by ice, and occur mostly in what is believed to be the central areas of the ice sheets...

 : large subglacial elongated hills transverse to former ice flow.

See also

  • International Glaciological Society
    International Glaciological Society
    The International Glaciological Society was founded in 1936 to provide a focus for individuals interested in glaciology, practical and scientific aspects of snow and ice. It was originally known as the 'Association for the Study of Snow and Ice'. The name was changed to the 'British Glaciological...

  • International Association of Cryospheric Sciences
    International Association of Cryospheric Sciences
    The International Association of Cryospheric Sciences, or IACS, is the eighth association of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics...

  • Irish Sea Glacier
    Irish Sea Glacier
    The Irish Sea Glacier was a huge glacier during the Ice Age that, probably on more than one occasion, flowed southwards from its source areas in Scotland and Ireland and across the Isle of Man, Anglesey and Pembrokeshire....

  • List of glaciers
  • Cryosphere
    The cryosphere is the term which collectively describes the portions of the Earth’s surface where water is in solid form, including sea ice, lake ice, river ice, snow cover, glaciers, ice caps and ice sheets, and frozen ground . Thus there is a wide overlap with the hydrosphere...

External links

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