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Glaciology (from Latin: glacies , "frost, ice", and Ancient Greek: λόγος, logos , "subject matter"; literally "study of ice") is the scientific study of glaciers, or more generally ice and natural phenomena that involve ice.
Glaciology is an interdisciplinary Earth science that integrates geophysics, geology, physical geography, geomorphology, climatology, meteorology, hydrology, biology, and ecology. The impact of glaciers on people includes the fields of human geography and anthropology. The discoveries of water ice on the Moon, Mars, Europa and Pluto add an extraterrestrial component to the field, which is referred to as "astroglaciology".
A glacier is an extended mass of ice formed from snow falling and accumulating over a long period of time; glaciers move very slowly, either descending from high mountains, as in valley glaciers, or moving outward from centers of accumulation, as in continental glaciers.
Areas of study within glaciology include glacial history and the reconstruction of past glaciation. A glaciologist is a person who studies glaciers. A glacial geologist studies glacial deposits and glacial erosive features on the landscape. Glaciology and glacial geology are key areas of polar research.
Glaciers can be identified by their geometry and the relationship to the surrounding topography. 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.
When a glacier is experiencing an input of precipitation that exceeds the output, the glacier is advancing. Conversely, if the output from evaporation, sublimation, melting, and calving exceed the glaciers precipitation input the glacier is receding. This is referred to as an interglacial period. During periods where ice is advancing at an extreme rate, that is typically 100 times faster than what is considered normal, it is referred to as a surging glacier. During times in which the input of precipitation to the glacier is equivalent to the ice lost from calving, evaporation, and melting of the glacier, there is a steady-state condition. Within the glacier, the ice has a downward movement in the accumulation zone and an upwards movement in the ablation zone.
Movement of the glacier is very slow. Its velocity varies from a few centimeters per day to a few meters per day. The rate of movement depends upon the numbers of factors which are listed below :
A glacier is a persistent body of dense ice that is constantly moving under its own weight. A glacier forms where the accumulation of snow exceeds its ablation over many years, often centuries. Glaciers slowly deform and flow under stresses induced by their weight, creating crevasses, seracs, and other distinguishing features. They also abrade rock and debris from their substrate to create landforms such as cirques and moraines. Glaciers form only on land and are distinct from the much thinner sea ice and lake ice that forms on the surface of bodies of water.
An ice age is a long period of reduction in the temperature of the Earth's surface and atmosphere, resulting in the presence or expansion of continental and polar ice sheets and alpine glaciers. Earth's climate alternates between ice ages and greenhouse periods, during which there are no glaciers on the planet. Earth is currently in the Quaternary glaciation, known in popular terminology as the Ice Age. Individual pulses of cold climate within an ice age are termed "glacial periods", and intermittent warm periods within an ice age are called "interglacials" or "interstadials", with both climatic pulses part of the Quaternary or other periods in Earth's history.
A moraine is any glacially formed accumulation of unconsolidated glacial debris that occurs in both currently and formerly glaciated regions on Earth, through geomorphological processes. Moraines are formed from debris previously carried along by a glacier, and normally consist of somewhat rounded particles ranging in size from large boulders to minute glacial flour. Lateral moraines are formed at the side of the ice flow and terminal moraines at the foot, marking the maximum advance of the glacier. Other types of moraine include ground moraines and medial moraines.
Till or glacial till is unsorted glacial sediment.
The cryosphere is an all-encompassing term for those portions of Earth's surface where water is in solid form, including sea ice, lake ice, river ice, snow cover, glaciers, ice caps, ice sheets, and frozen ground. Thus, there is a wide overlap with the hydrosphere. The cryosphere is an integral part of the global climate system with important linkages and feedbacks generated through its influence on surface energy and moisture fluxes, clouds, precipitation, hydrology, atmospheric and oceanic circulation. Through these feedback processes, the cryosphere plays a significant role in the global climate and in climate model response to global changes. The term deglaciation describes the retreat of cryospheric features. Cryology is the study of cryospheres.
The Last Glacial Period (LGP) occurred from the end of the Eemian to the end of the Younger Dryas, encompassing the period c. 115,000 – c. 11,700 years ago. This most recent glacial period is part of a larger pattern of glacial and interglacial periods known as the Quaternary glaciation extending from c. 2,588,000 years ago to present. The definition of the Quaternary as beginning 2.58 Ma is based on the formation of the Arctic ice cap. The Antarctic ice sheet began to form earlier, at about 34 Ma, in the mid-Cenozoic. The term Late Cenozoic Ice Age is used to include this early phase.
An arête is a narrow ridge of rock which separates two valleys. It is typically formed when two glaciers erode parallel U-shaped valleys. Arêtes can also form when two glacial cirques erode headwards towards one another, although frequently this results in a saddle-shaped pass, called a col. The edge is then sharpened by freeze-thaw weathering, and the slope on either side of the arête steepened through mass wasting events and the erosion of exposed, unstable rock. The word ‘arête’ is actually French for edge or ridge; similar features in the Alps are often described with the German equivalent term Grat.
A cirque is an amphitheatre-like valley formed by glacial erosion. Alternative names for this landform are corrie and cwm. A cirque may also be a similarly shaped landform arising from fluvial erosion.
Glacial landforms are landforms created by the action of glaciers. Most of today's glacial landforms were created by the movement of large ice sheets during the Quaternary glaciations. Some areas, like Fennoscandia and the southern Andes, have extensive occurrences of glacial landforms; other areas, such as the Sahara, display rare and very old fossil glacial landforms.
Crucial to the survival of a glacier is its mass balance or surface mass balance (SMB), the difference between accumulation and ablation. Climate change may cause variations in both temperature and snowfall, causing changes in the surface mass balance. Changes in mass balance control a glacier's long-term behavior and are the most sensitive climate indicators on a glacier. From 1980–2012 the mean cumulative mass loss of glaciers reporting mass balance to the World Glacier Monitoring Service is −16 m. This includes 23 consecutive years of negative mass balances.
Glacier ice accumulation occurs through accumulation of snow and other frozen precipitation, as well as through other means including rime ice, avalanching from hanging glaciers on cliffs and mountainsides above, and re-freezing of glacier meltwater as superimposed ice. Accumulation is one element in the glacier mass balance formula, with ablation counteracting. With successive years in which accumulation exceeds ablation, then a glacier will experience positive mass balance, and its terminus will advance.
Ablation zone or ablation area refers to the low-altitude area of a glacier or ice sheet below firn with a net loss in ice mass due to melting, sublimation, evaporation, ice calving, aeolian processes like blowing snow, avalanche, and any other ablation. The equilibrium line altitude (ELA) or snow line separates the ablation zone from the higher-altitude accumulation zone. The ablation zone often contains meltwater features such as supraglacial lakes, englacial streams, and subglacial lakes. Sediments dropped in the ablation zone forming small mounds or hillocks are called kames. Kame and kettle hole topography is useful in identifying an ablation zone of a glacier. The seasonally melting glacier deposits much sediment at its fringes in the ablation area. Ablation constitutes a key part of the glacier mass balance.
Glacier morphology, or the form a glacier takes, is influenced by temperature, precipitation, topography, and other factors. The goal of glacial morphology is to gain a better understanding of glaciated landscapes, and the way they are shaped. Types of glaciers can range from massive ice sheets, such as the Greenland ice sheet, to small cirque glaciers found perched on mountain tops. Glaciers can be grouped into two main categories:
The glacial history of Minnesota is most defined since the onset of the last glacial period, which ended some 10,000 years ago. Within the last million years, most of the Midwestern United States and much of Canada were covered at one time or another with an ice sheet. This continental glacier had a profound effect on the surface features of the area over which it moved. Vast quantities of rock and soil were scraped from the glacial centers to its margins by slowly moving ice and redeposited as drift or till. Much of this drift was dumped into old preglacial river valleys, while some of it was heaped into belts of hills at the margin of the glacier. The chief result of glaciation has been the modification of the preglacial topography by the deposition of drift over the countryside. However, continental glaciers possess great power of erosion and may actually modify the preglacial land surface by scouring and abrading rather than by the deposition of the drift.
Deglaciation describes the transition from full glacial conditions during ice ages, to warm interglacials, characterized by global warming and sea level rise due to change in continental ice volume. Thus, it refers to the retreat of a glacier, an ice sheet or frozen surface layer, and the resulting exposure of the Earth's surface. The decline of the cryosphere due to ablation can occur on any scale from global to localized to a particular glacier. After the Last Glacial Maximum, the last deglaciation begun, which lasted until the early Holocene. Around much of Earth, deglaciation during the last 100 years has been accelerating as a result of climate change, partly brought on by anthropogenic changes to greenhouse gases.
Discrete debris accumulation (DDA) is a non-genetic term in mountain glacial geology to aid identification of non-lithified sediments on a valley or mountain slope or floor. It is intended that the debris accumulation is discrete such that it can be mapped, in the field and/or from aerial or satellite imagery. The origin or formative process may well not be known clearly or be changed by subsequent investigators it is advisable to have a non-genetic field reference so that discussion can then be used to ascertain, if possible, the origin. Mountain areas may currently have glaciers (glacierized) or have had glaciers (glaciated) or be subject to forms of periglacial activity. A moraine would be an easily identified DDA as would an esker. Although scree (talus) is generally easily identified and mapped, these deposits may be modified by ice, avalanches or downlope movement to create essentially new landforms. Many small slope failures and landslides can give the appearance of moraines or protalus ramparts on slopes. After mapping as a DDA, further investigation might draw light on the origin of the feature.
Snezhnika is a glacieret in the Pirin Mountains of Bulgaria, a remnant of the former Vihren Glacier. The glacieret lies at an elevation between 2,425 m (7,956 ft) and 2,480 m (8,140 ft) in the deep Golemiya Kazan cirque at the steep northern foot of Vihren, Pirin's highest summit. Due to the relatively easy access and its location along a popular hiking trail, Snezhnika is Bulgaria's most famous glacieret. Snezhnika has an average area of 0.01 km2 (0.0039 sq mi) and in 2006 it had a volume of 30,000 m3 (1,100,000 cu ft).
Trevor James Hill Chinn was a New Zealand glaciologist, who conducted extensive surveys of the glaciers of New Zealand's Southern Alps.
A blue-ice area is an ice-covered area of Antarctica where wind-driven snow transport and sublimation result in net mass loss from the ice surface in the absence of melting, forming a blue-coloured surface that contrasts with the white colour of the Antarctic surface. Such blue-ice areas typically form when the movement of both air and ice are obstructed by topographic obstacles such as mountains that emerge from the ice sheet, generating particular climatic conditions where the net snow accumulation is exceeded by wind-driven sublimation and snow transports.
A glacier head is the top of a glacier. Although glaciers seem motionless to the observer they are in constant motion and the terminus is always either advancing or retreating.
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