Physical Geography

Earth Science

Types of Glaciers: How They Form And Move

What is a Glacier?

Glaciers are often described as 'rivers of ice'. People who haven't stood on them, or studied them, often imagine them as wide river shaped masses of ice, like the stuff in your fridge at home, with a covering of fresh white snow. They imagine it flowing slowly downhill, just like a river in slow motion, eventually melting and becoming a 'normal' river.

Ask a geographer to describe a glacier and you'll probably get a rather different answer. I've stood on glaciers where there wasn't the slightest sign of ice or snow, sometimes where there was no sign of any movement, and at other times the ground under my feet was constantly groaning and 'pinging' as the ice cracked and fractured.

To learn about how glaciers are formed, and why and how they flow, read this article about How Glaciers Form And Flow . It will be a good idea to print a copy of the page when you go there.

After you have read the article about how glaciers form and move, make some brief notes under the following headings...

1. What conditions must exist for a glacier to form?
2. How does snow change into glacial ice?
3. What conditions are needed before a glacier will start to move?
4. What are Cold Glaciers and Warm Glaciers?
5. What is meant by Zones of accumulation and ablation, and how do these zones control the apparent movement of the glacier ?
6. What are crevasses, and how do they form?

We are going to study four types of glacier; Niche Glaciers, Corrie Glaciers, Valley Glaciers and Ice Caps.

It is best to learn about them in that order because a Niche Glacier can become a Corrie Glacier, Corrie Glaciers may form Valley Glaciers, and Ice Caps may contain all three of the other types of glacier!

Read this account of how Niche and Corrie Glaciers are formed, then either print out a copy for your file or make some brief notes. Make sure that you know of a case study you can use in the examinations. A good one is mentioned in the article ( Clue: There is a picture of it!)

Now do the same for Valley Glaciers and for Ice Caps

Further Activities

You will now have to carry out some research of your own...

a) The name of an existing example of each type of glacier, it's location and some brief details about it.

b) The name of a place in the UK that used to have an example of each type of glacier. (For example, Red Tarn on Helvellyn used to be the source of a corrie glacier). Find out about the location of each example, the features that prove that a glacier used to be there, and then make some brief notes about its history.


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