Glacier morphology


Glacier morphology

Glacier morphology, or the form a glacier takes, is influenced by temperature, precipitation, topography, and other factors. Types of glaciers range from massive ice sheets, such as the Greenland ice sheet or those in Antarctica, to small cirque glaciers perched on a mountain. Glaciers types can be grouped into two main categories, based on whether or not ice flow is constrained by the underlying bedrock topography.

Unconstrained

[
Vatnajökull ice cap in Iceland]
Ice sheets and ice caps cover vast areas and are unconstrained by the underlying topography. The main distinction between the two is area, with ice caps covering areas less than 50,000 square kilometers, while ice sheets span larger areas. [cite web |url=http://www2.nature.nps.gov/views/KCs/Glaciers/HTML/ET_Intro.htm |title=Introduction to Glaciers |publisher=National Park Service] Ice sheets and ice caps can be classified further.

Ice domes

Ice domes located in the accumulation zone in the higher altitude portions.

Ice streams

Ice streams rapidly channel ice flow out to the sea or ocean, where it may feed into an ice shelf. At the margin between ice and water, ice calving takes place, with icebergs breaking off. Ice streams are bounded on the sides by areas of slowly moving ice. [cite journal |author=McIntyre, N.F. |year=1985 |title=The Dynamics of Ice Sheet Outlets |journal=Journal of Glaciology |volume=31 |pages=p. 99–107]

Outlet glaciers

Outlet glaciers are channels of ice that flow out of an ice sheet, but are constrained on the sides with exposed bedrock.

Constrained

Icefield

An icefield covers a relatively large area, usually located in mountainous terrain. The underlying topography controls or influences the form that an icefield takes. Often, nunataks poke through the surface of icefields. Examples of icefields include the Columbia Icefield in the Canadian Rockies and Patagonia Icefield in Chile.

Valley glaciers

Valley glaciers, which provide drainage for icefields, are also constrained by underlying topography. Ice-free exposed bedrock and slopes often surround valley glaciers, providing snow and ice from above to accumulate on the glacier via avalanches.

Cirque glaciers

Cirque glaciers form in cirque, bowl-shaped depressions on the side of mountains. In these depressions, snow persists through summer months, and is transformed into glacier ice. Snow may be situated on the leeward slope of a mountain, where it is sheltered.

References


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