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Glaciers

Environmental Science 1

De Mesa, Carla S.
Tadios, Gia Marie T.
• Glaciers - large
mass of mobile,
permanent ice Definition
formed on land
by the
consolidation and
recrystallization
of snowflakes,
that shows
evidence of down
slope or outward
movement due to
the pull of gravity
(Grolier
International,
1999) Location: Bernese Alps, 671.000 / 169.000
(local Swiss coordinate system); length
(1973): 5.75 km; orientation: north; surface
area (1973): 16.55 km2
Photos below: 2003 (left) and 2004 (right).
Definition
• may terminate on land, in the ocean, or in lake and vary
in size from small features about 1km long to the great
Antarctic ice sheet, which covers 12, 500, 000 km2
(Grolier International, 1999).
• constitute much of the Earth that makes up the
cryosphere
• most glacial ice today is found in the polar regions, above
the Arctic and Antarctic Circles (Glaciers,
http://jove.geol.niu.edu), and on all of the continents
except Australia (Grolier International, 1999).
Definition
• At the present time, glacier ice covers about 10 per
cent of the Earth’s land surface (Hambrey and
Alean, 2004).
• In geological terms, we are living in a glacial era that
began in Antarctica some 35 million years ago.
– the latter stages of this era have included many alterations
between periods of full glaciation, when much of the
northern hemisphere was covered by ice, and interglacial
periods characterized by much less ice, such as at the
present day.
– The most recent full- scale glaciations, when ice covered up
to 30 per cent of the land, ended as recently as 10, 000
years ago and, if the planet were allowed to follow its
natural cycle, a return to such condition would be expected
in a few thousand years’ time.
Table 1. Distribution of glacerized (glacier- covered) areas of
the world (World Glacier Monitoring Service, 1989. World
glacier inventory. IAHS (ICSI)- UNEP- UNESCO)
Region Area (km2)
Africa 10
Antartica 13, 593, 310
Asian and Eastern Europe 185, 211

Australasia (i.e. New Zealand) 860

Europe (Western) 53, 967

Greenland 1, 726, 400


North America excluding Greenland 276, 100
South America 25, 908
World Total 15, 861, 766
taken from Hambrey and Alean, 2004
Glaciers and ice sheets cover a
Antartica- the icy continent
tenth of the Earth`s surface

Glaciers come in all shapes and sizesSensitive indicators of climatic change

Glaciers have shaped a third of the


land surface
The world’s highest peak, Mount
Everest (8848 m) on the left, feeds
the Khumbu Icefall and then the
Khumbu Glacier which flows beneath
Nuptse 7861 m) towards the right

The Sherpa villages of the Khumbu


Himal are overlooked by some of the
world’s highest peaks and their
extensive glaciers. Near Dingboche
Bhuddist prayer flags provide a
foreground for the ice-draped peaks
of Thamserku

Mer de Glace from Montenvers, near


Chamonix, France, one of the first
glaciers to be studied by 19th
Century scientists, and now a popular
destination for tourists and climbers

Photos: Michael Hambrey and Jürg Alean, 2004


Glacial Process
• glacial ice forms by compaction and
re-crystallization of snow in which
snowflakes are melted
preferentially at their edges first
because it is the region where the
surface area most closely equals
the volume
• snow that survives (usually in
shaded areas) at least one full
season is converted to a granular
type of ice called firn.
• with enough snow accumulation
and time, pressure from overlying
snow may be build up enough to
convert firn into crystalline ice and
cause flow
Glacial Process
• glaciers form where more snow falls
than melts
• a glacier's accumulation area,
located at higher elevations,
accrues a wealth of snow and ice
• ablation area, located at lower
elevations, loses ice through melting
(downwasting) or calving
• glacier's terminus or face advances
when more snow and ice amass At the end of the summer
than melt, and it retreats when melt season, alpine glaciers
exceeds accumulation
have a clear demarcation
• when melt equals accumulation, a
between the accumulation
glacier achieves equilibrium and its
face remains stationary. Whether area and the ablation area
the glacier's face is advancing or known as the equilibrium
retreating, glacial ice persistently line, as here on Vadret
glides down-valley (Icefields and Pers, Engadin, Switzerland
Glaciers, http://www.fs.fed.us).
High elevations in the tropical Andes
receive large quantities of snow
during the rainy season in summer.
This peak of Nevado Parón (5600 m)
bears the characteristic mushroom-
like growths of snow and ice, as well
as ice cliffs that feed into the glacier
In slow below
moving or stagnant temperate
glaciers, ice crystals can attain large
sizes, as this example from Columbia
Glacier, Alaska demonstrates
The
accumulation
of snow in the
heart of
Antarctica
amounts to
only a few
The crevasse wall clearly centimetres
shows the accumulation per year, and
layering, the most much of that
prominent of which is reworked by
bound a year’s wind
accumulation of snow
Ice avalanches in high mountain
terrain contribute to the build-up of
ice in the accumulation area, as here
on Nevado Chacraraju (6172 m),
Cordillera Blanca, Peru

Glaciers respond to a negative mass


balance either by recession of the
snout or down-wasting. Here Mueller
Glacier in the Southern Alps of New
Zealand is down-wasting into an
incipient lake

Small Antarctic glaciers, separate


from the ice sheet, show steep
vertical cliffs if their snouts are
stationary or advancing
Table 2 Variants and Sub- categories of Alpine and
Continental Glaciers
Cirque Glacier (variant)- glacier in a depression, Ice sheets (variant)- relatively large in size

Types of usually at the head of valleys

Glaciers
Niche Glacier (variant)- very small glacial form ice shelf (sub-category)- an ice cap or ice sheet

which exists in a shallow hollow on a steep which extends out over the water, such as the

Glaciers can be mountain slope Antarctic Ross

divided into 2 Cirque Glacier (variant)- glacier in a depression, Ice sheets (variant)- relatively large in size
general types, usually at the head of valleys
Alpine or
Niche Glacier (variant)- very small glacial form ice shelf (sub-category)- an ice cap or ice sheet
Mountain
Glaciers, those which exists in a shallow hollow on a steep which extends out over the water, such as the

Glaciers which mountain slope Antarctic Ross Ice Shelf


originate on a Piedmont Glaciers (variant)- extend from their iceberg (sub-category)- a piece of an ice sheet or ice
mountain or in
mountain origin all the way onto a plain shelf which floats out into the oceans
a mountain
range, and the confluent glacier (sub-category)-merging of 2 or

Continental more glaciers

Glaciers, the tidewater glacier (sub-category)-valley glacier


large masses which reaches the sea, and thus calves small
of Glacial ice in
icebergs, but is often subject to being eroded at the
Greenland and
Antarctica terminus by wave action

(Walker, 2007).
Tidewater glacier glacier cliff
The largest glacier in the European Alps,
reflected in pool on melting
the Grosser Aletschgletscher from the air.
sea ice, Nordenskiöldbreen,
The glacier descends for 23 km from
Billefjorden, western
peaks of over 4000 m, and supplies
Spitsbergen
meltwater for a major electrical power
station owned by the Swiss railway
system

A small ice cap on the


northeast side of James Ross
Island, Antarctic Peninsula The smallest glaciers are only a few
region forms a white dome- hundred metres across, such as this
shaped feature, capping the tiny cirque glacier (Teton Glacier) in
dark grey volcanic rocks below Grand Tetons National Park,
Cirque glaciers such as Fast-flowing glaciers that reach the
Skoltbre on the peak of sea discharge large numbers of
Oksskolten (1916 m) in iceberg
Nordland, Norway

Glaciers that flow through


narrow valleys and then Glacier ice can cling to surprisingly
reach an open plain steep mountainsides where it builds
spread out as broad lobes up to form avalanche-prone hanging
known as piedmont glaciers as here on the NE peak of the
glaciers long ridge of Ombigaichan (over 6000
m), Khumbu Himal, Nepal
Earth’s Glacial Record
• many people are aware that the Earth was
repeatedly affected by ice ages over the last two
million years, when ice sheets extended from the
polar regions to cover ground now occupied by
such major cities as Chicago, New York,
Edinburgh, Birmingham, Berlin, Oslo, Stockholm
and Moscow
• major ice ages occurred in the earlier geological
past, as far back as 3000 million years ago -
there is a belief in some quarters that the world
was almost totally covered by ice six or seven
hundred million years ago - the age of the
«Snowball Earth»
The legacy of glaciation in regions
that lost their glaciers after the last
glaciation 12,000 years ago, are
some of the world’s finest
landscapes. Crummock Water, with
the Central Fells of the Lake District
beyond is one of the classic glaciated
areas in Britain
There are several lines of evidence
for glaciation in ancient rocks. One of
the most useful is the presence of
rocks mixed with particles ranging
from clay to boulder size

Evidence of glaciation from 2000-


2500 million years ago is shown by
this ‘tillite’ – a mixture of coarse and
fine fragments in a very hard rock,
Whitefish Falls, Ontario, Canada
China has abundant evidence of Late
Proterozoic glaciations, spanning at
leats three time intervals. Not only
are there are extensive tillites, but
there are grooved and striated
pavements underlying them, as here
in Henan Province

Evidence of another glaciation in the


Kaokoveld, a hot desert area of northern
Namibia. Here, a Permian-Carboniferous
landscape has been preserved for most of its
life by younger sediments. These have now
been exhumed, revealing classic glacial
landforms such as this glacial trough at
Omutirapo
The last full-scale glaciation in Britain
transported large amounts of
material southwards. The Isle of Arran
in SW Scotland had its own centre of
ice dispersal, producing these whitish
granite erratics
The last glaciation in the United
States saw the erosion of many fine
glacial troughs, such as the Yosemite
Valley in California. The over-
steepened valley sides include El
Capitan on the left

Striking evidence of ice-sheet-scale


glaciation can be found in Central
Park, New York, where the exposed
bedrock surfaces carry striations
formed at the bed of a sliding ice
mass
a dam at Griesgletscher, Valais,
Switzerland has been constructed to
receive meltwater in summer for use
in power generation in winter
Large amounts of
debris are
transported by
Breithorngletscher
(right) and
Schwarzgletscher
(centre) flowing
off Breithorn
(4164 m) near
Zermatt,
Switzerland

The dramatic
granite peaks of the Transporting large
Torres del Paine, debris on the Grosser
tower above a Aletschgletscher,
moraine-dammed Berner Oberland,
lake Switzerland
Some glacier facts
Glaciers store about 75% of the world's freshwater, and if all land ice
melted the seas would rise about 70 meters (about 230 feet).

Glacial ice often appears blue when it has become very dense. Years
of compression gradually make the ice denser over time, forcing out the
tiny air pockets between crystals. When glacier ice becomes extremely
dense, the ice absorbs all other colors in the spectrum and reflects
primarily blue, which is what we see. When glacier ice is white, that
usually means that there are many tiny air bubbles still in the ice.
Motion and change define a glacier's life. Glacial ice advances, then
retreats.
Glaciers grow and shrink in response to changing climate.
Typically glacier movement and shape shifting occur over long
periods of time (hundreds to thousands of years), but within historic
memory such transformations in fewer than 100 years are not
unknown.
Why Glaciers
•By their movement, glaciers mark change and for this
reason - among others - scientists study glaciers. By
monitoring glaciers over time and around the world,
researchers construct valuable records of glacial
activity and their response to climate variation.

•By comparing contemporary observations with


historical and environmental records, such as
agricultural records, pre-historic temperature or climate
profiles, glaciologists acquire and provide an enhanced
understanding of global processes and change.
Keeping track
• Scientists track glacial change by measuring individual
glaciers and comparing their size over time with records of
the local and regional climate.
• The Global Land Ice Measurements from Space
(GLIMS) Coordination Center at the
United States Geological Survey (USGS) in Flagstaff,
Arizona team uses high-resolution satellite images from
the Advanced Spaceborne
Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER)
instrument and the Landsat Enhanced Thematic Mapper
Plus (ETM+), archived at the Land Processes
Distributed Active Archive Center (LP DAAC), to track
the size and movement of glaciers.
◄This ASTER image
shows the lakes left
behind by retreating
glaciers in the Bhutan-
Himalaya. (Image
courtesy of Jeffrey
Kargel, USGS/NASA
JPL/AGU)

►This ASTER image,


acquired on July 23, 2001,
shows Aletsch Glacier, the
largest glacier of Europe.
(Image by Earth
Observatory Team, based
on data provided by the
ASTER Science Team)
Current state of glaciers
Glacial shifts usually occur at a glacial pace -- over
centuries or millennia. But scientists are now watching
that scope of change occur in a matter of years.

Scientists say the melt rate has accelerated dramatically


since the mid-1990s, which was the hottest decade in a
thousand years, according to data from ancient ice cores
and tree rings.
Shrinking Glaciers

Glaciers everywhere in the


world (with a very few
exceptions) have been
shrinking throughout the 20th
Century, a prime signal of rapid
global warming.
1979
1928
2000

South Cascade Glacier in the Washington Cascade Mountains


Glacier-ice shelf interactions: In a stable glacier-ice shelf system, the glacier's downhill
movement is offset by the buoyant force of the water on the front of the shelf. Warmer
temperatures destabilize this system by lubricating the glacier's base and creating melt
ponds that eventually carve through the shelf. Once the ice shelf retreats to the grounding
line, the buoyant force that used to offset glacier flow becomes negligible, and the glacier
picks up speed on its way to the sea.
▼Disintegration of the Larsen B
Ice Shelf: The event began on
January 31, 2002. Several weeks
later, the ice shelf had completely
shattered.

▲Extent of Larsen Ice Shelf retreat:


Colored lines mark the ice shelf's extent
in 1947, 1961, 1993, and 2002.

MODIS image courtesy of Ted Scambos and Terry Haran, National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado, Boulder.
Jacobshavn Glacier retreat: The rapidly retreating Jakobshavn Glacier in western Greenland
drains the central ice sheet. This image shows the glacier in 2001, flowing from upper right to lower
left. Terminus locations before 2001 were determined by surveys and more recent contours were
derived from Landsat data. The more recent retreat lines indicated in this image are longer than the
earlier ones, and the increasing area of retreat suggests the possibility of increasing glacier
acceleration as more ice flows into the fjord. Ice flowing into the fjord, however, would still have to
pass through the same bottleneck of rock.

Image courtesy NASA Earth Observatory, Cindy Starr, based on data from Ole Bennike and Anker Weidick (Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland) and Landsat data.
▲The Pasterze, Austria's longest glacier, was about 2 kilometers longer in the 19th C. but is now
completely out of sight from this overlook on the Grossglockner High Road. The Margaritzen-
Strausee, a dammed artificial lake, now is in the place where the glacier terminus was in 1875.
Measurements of the Pasterze began in 1889 and it has been pulling back the entire time, in
approximate step with regional temperatures that have been increasing. The glacier is now about
eight Km long and loses about 15 meters per year. However in 2003 the Pasterze decreased 30
meters in length and 6.5 meters in thickness.

[1875 image, photographer unknown, is courtesy H. Slupetzky, from the University of Salzburg archives. Gary Braasch
photo made Aug 14, 2004]
◄In 1997 the U.S.
Geological Survey began
the Repeat Photography
Project in the Montana park
to compare how glaciers
have changed over the last
century. Photographers
returned to locations where
old-timers had taken photos
long before they could
possibly have imagined their
scientific value.
►The Qori Kalis glacier in
Peru, shown in 1978.

►The Qori Kalis glacier in


Peru in 2000.

Glacier photos courtesy Lonnie Thompson, Ohio State University.


Effects of glacial melting
Large amounts of land now covered by ice will be
available for agriculture and mining. A melting glacier in
Alaska is exposing what may be the richest lode of
copper ever found in the state.
Historically unnavigable areas may open, such as the
famed Northwest Passage of the Arctic.
Increased melting could result in temporary increases in
meltwater available for human use.
Over time there will be less water to sustain the
communities that have come to depend on that
meltwater.
Devastation of major rivers.
Deprivation of the mountain ecology of its main life
source,
Hastening and expansion of desertification.
More droughts and sandstorms for the regions that
depend on glaciers for water supply.
Failure of agriculture due to the loss of source of
irrigation.
Drying up of the source and failure of hydroelectric
power plants.
• glaciers is their scenic value,
whether it be regions with modern
glaciers such as the Alps or Western
Cordillera, or regions that have long-
since lost their glaciers, such as the
English Lake District or many parts of
the Rockies
• water for irrigation and the A complex series of irrigation
generation of hydro-electricity ditches, as here on the slopes
• the sediments from glaciers of Huascarán, Cordillera Blanca,
themselves are valuable as a provider Peru, support extensive
of underground water supplies agriculture during the dry
season

One way of letting


casual tourists enjoy In some areas of Switzerland, the
glaciers is to excavate waters are collected from several
ice caves or ‘grottos’. glaciers and sent via tunnels to one
This tunnel is beneath holding reservoir
the Rhonegletscher,
Weakening of tourism.
Increased hazards or disasters for communities living
near glaciers.
Some glaciers may store up large amounts of
water and then release it suddenly in a massive melt
or calving or collapse, which may involve floods,
landslides, or avalanches.
Hazards to shipping and navigation due to the changes
in iceberg production.
Glacier Hazards
• Over the centuries, glaciers have been responsible for
many natural disasters as a result of ice avalanches
• Other disasters have arisen from the damming of lakes
by glaciers and moraines, followed by failure of the dam
• The worst disasters, accounting for tens of thousands of
lives, have occurred in Peru, but other seriously affected
regions have been the Himalaya and the Alps

A curious block of ice has fallen off a


hanging glacier on the south side of
the Mönch (4099 m), Switzerland
A major ice avalanche from a hanging
glacier on the south flank of Mönch
(4099 m), Switzerland. More than
300,000 cubic metres of ice fell

Satellite image of Huaraz and its


relationship with the nearby
Cordillera Blanca, Peru. An outburst
flood from Laguna Cohup on 13
December 1947 killed 7000 people

Glacial lake outburst floods


transport huge amounts of debris,
including large boulders
Slowing or disruption of the ocean conveyor.

The ocean's system of currents takes 1,000 years to go full cycle. Warm water is
chilled in the far North Atlantic and sinks. The cold, salty current flows south near the
bottom.
• Glaciers and their Emperor penguins are well known
surroundings are often for breeding during the winter in
Antarctica
havens for wildlife
• ranging from the polar bear
in the far north to the
penguin in the deep south.
Elephant seal on the sandy
• delicate flowers and small
beach at Davis Station (East
mammal species thrive in Antarctica)
many alpine regions

Antarctic skua at Arctic wolf a Arctic fox (Alopex lagopus) in


Mirnyy Station, regular visitor to a summer coat near the glacier
East Antarctica glaciological field midre Lovénbreen, NW
station on Spitsbergen
Breaking of food chain.
Endangered existence of polar animals and other
organism Arctic sea ice is a habitat for polar
bears. It is essential for catching prey
and rearing young.
The small polar willow Saxifrage, one of the White arctic bell heather
shrub on Axel Heiberg earliest plants to of East Greenland
Island colonise deglaciated
terrain

Vegetation in moist, Gemswurz and


Fireweed on an alpine
mild areas such as alpine forget-me-
meadow near
near Fox Glacier, not growing on a
Triftgletscher, Berner
South Island, New lateral moraine of
Oberland, Switzerland
Zealand Vadret da
Morteratsch,
Increase in sea level submerging low-lying coastal
regions and shrinking islands.

Sea level rise contributors: Comparison of volume (white), area (grey) and
percent contribution to sea level rise (red) by small glaciers and ice caps, and
the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets.
Alteration of short and long term weather patterns.
Increased number of earthquakes, volcanic
eruptions and tsunamis.

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