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The snow-free debris hills around the lagoon are lateral and terminal moraines of a valley glacier in Nepal. Manang site (54).JPG
The snow-free debris hills around the lagoon are lateral and terminal moraines of a valley glacier in Nepal.

A moraine is any glacially formed accumulation of unconsolidated glacial debris (regolith and rock) that occurs in both currently and formerly glaciated regions on Earth (i.e. a past glacial maximum), 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 (till-covered areas with irregular topography) and medial moraines (moraines formed where two glaciers meet).



The word "moraine" is derived from the French root moraine, which in turn is derived from the Savoyard Italian morena, from Franco-Provençal mor, morre ("muzzle, snout"), and eventually from Vulgar Latin *murrum.[ citation needed ]


Moraines may be composed of debris ranging in size from silt-sized glacial flour to large boulders. The debris is typically sub-angular to rounded in shape. Moraines may be on the glacier's surface or deposited as piles or sheets of debris where the glacier has melted.


Moraines may form through a number of processes, depending on the characteristics of sediment, the dynamics on the ice, and the location on the glacier in which the moraine is formed. [1] Moraine forming processes may be loosely divided into passive and active.

Passive processes involve the placing of chaotic supraglacial sediments onto the landscape with limited reworking, typically forming hummocky moraines. [2] These moraines are composed of supraglacial sediments from the ice surface.

Active processes form or rework moraine sediment directly by the movement of ice, known as glaciotectonism. These form push moraines and thrust-block moraines, which are often composed of till and reworked proglacial sediment. [3]

Moraine may also form by the accumulation of sand and gravel deposits from glacial streams emanating from the ice margin. These fan deposits may coalesce to form a long moraine bank marking the ice margin. [4] Several processes may combine to form and rework a single moraine, and most moraines record a continuum of processes. Reworking of moraines may lead to the formation of placer deposits of gold as is the case of southernmost Chile. [5]

Types of moraines

Moraines can be classified either by origin, location with respect to a glacier or former glacier, or by shape. The first approach is suitable for moraines associated with contemporary glaciers—but more difficult to apply to old moraines, which are defined by their particular morphology, since their origin is debated. Some moraine types are known only from ancient glaciers, while medial moraines of valley glaciers are poorly preserved and difficult to distinguish after the retreat or melting of the glacier.

Lateral moraines

Lateral moraines above Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada. MorainesLakeLouise.JPG
Lateral moraines above Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada.

Lateral moraines are parallel ridges of debris deposited along the sides of a glacier. The unconsolidated debris can be deposited on top of the glacier by frost shattering of the valley walls and/or from tributary streams flowing into the valley.[ citation needed ] The till is carried along the glacial margin until the glacier melts. Because lateral moraines are deposited on top of the glacier, they do not experience the postglacial erosion of the valley floor and therefore, as the glacier melts, lateral moraines are usually preserved as high ridges.

Moraines clearly seen on a side glacier of the Gorner Glacier, Zermatt, Switzerland. The lateral moraine is the high snow-free bank of debris in the top left hand quarter of the picture. The medial moraine is the double line of debris running down the centre-line of the glacier. Glacier.zermatt.arp.750pix.jpg
Moraines clearly seen on a side glacier of the Gorner Glacier, Zermatt, Switzerland. The lateral moraine is the high snow-free bank of debris in the top left hand quarter of the picture. The medial moraine is the double line of debris running down the centre-line of the glacier.

Lateral moraines stand high because they protect the ice under them from the elements, causing it to melt or sublime less than the uncovered parts of the glacier. Multiple lateral moraines may develop as the glacier advances and retreats.

Ground moraines

Ground moraines create irregular, rolling topography Ground moraine 9004.jpg
Ground moraines create irregular, rolling topography

Ground moraines are till-covered areas with irregular topography and no ridges, often forming gently rolling hills or plains. They are accumulated at the base of the ice as lodgment till, but may also be deposited as the glacier retreats. In alpine glaciers, ground moraines are often found between the two lateral moraines. Ground moraines may be modified into drumlins by the overriding ice.

Rogen moraines

Rogen moraines or ribbed moraines are a type of basal moraines that form a series of ribs perpendicular to the ice flow in an ice sheet. The depressions between the ribs are sometimes filled with water, making the Rogen moraines look like tigerstripes on aerial photographs. Rogen moraines are named after Lake Rogen [6] in Härjedalen, Sweden, the landform's type locality.

End or terminal moraines

Multiple erratics on the terminal moraine of the Okanogan Lobe. Cascade mountains in the background. Erratics-Cascades-PB110028.JPG
Multiple erratics on the terminal moraine of the Okanogan Lobe. Cascade mountains in the background.

End moraines, or terminal moraines, are ridges of unconsolidated debris deposited at the snout or end of the glacier. They usually reflect the shape of the glacier's terminus. Glaciers act much like a conveyor belt, carrying debris from the top of the glacier to the bottom where it deposits it in end moraines. End moraine size and shape are determined by whether the glacier is advancing, receding or at equilibrium. The longer the terminus of the glacier stays in one place, the more debris accumulate in the moraine. There are two types of end moraines: terminal and recessional. Terminal moraines mark the maximum advance of the glacier. Recessional moraines are small ridges left as a glacier pauses during its retreat. After a glacier retreats, the end moraine may be destroyed by postglacial erosion.

Recessional moraine

Recessional moraines are often observed as a series of transverse ridges running across a valley behind a terminal moraine. They form perpendicular to the lateral moraines that they reside between and are composed of unconsolidated debris deposited by the glacier. They are created during temporary halts in a glacier's retreat. [1] [7]

Medial moraine

Medial moraines, Nuussuaq Peninsula, Greenland Nuussuaq-peninsula-moraines.jpg
Medial moraines, Nuussuaq Peninsula, Greenland

A medial moraine is a ridge of moraine that runs down the center of a valley floor. It forms when two glaciers meet and the debris on the edges of the adjacent valley sides join and are carried on top of the enlarged glacier. As the glacier melts or retreats, the debris is deposited and a ridge down the middle of the valley floor is created. The Kaskawulsh Glacier in the Kluane National Park, Yukon, has a ridge of medial moraine 1 km wide.

Bruggen-PioXI FaceCompleteCroppedIMG5642.jpg
The prominent dark streak at the left quarter is forming a medial moraine.
This is seen as a mudflat at the water's surface. (Brüggen Glacier, Patagonia)

Supraglacial moraines

Supraglacial moraines are created by debris accumulated on top of glacial ice. This debris can accumulate due to ice flow toward the surface in the ablation zone, melting of surface ice or from debris that falls onto the glacier from valley sidewalls.

Washboard moraines

Washboard moraines, also known as minor or corrugated moraines, are low-amplitude geomorphic features caused by glaciers. The name "washboard moraine" refers to the fact that, from the air, it resembles a washboard.

Veiki moraine

A Veiki moraine is a kind of hummocky moraine that forms irregular landscapes of ponds and plateaus surrounded by banks. It forms from the irregular melting of ice covered with a thick layer of debris. Veiki moraine is common in northern Sweden and parts of Canada.

See also

Geologic features related to moraines
Moraine examples

Related Research Articles

Glacier Persistent body of ice that is moving under its own weight

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 form on the surface of bodies of water.

Drumlin Elongated hill formed by the action of glacial ice on the substrate

A drumlin, from the Irish word droimnín, first recorded in 1833, in the classical sense is an elongated hill in the shape of an inverted spoon or half-buried egg formed by glacial ice acting on underlying unconsolidated till or ground moraine. Clusters of drumlins create a landscape which is often described as having a 'basket of eggs topography'.

Till Unsorted glacial sediment

Till or glacial till is unsorted glacial sediment.

Esker Long, winding ridge of stratified sand and gravel associated with former glaciers

An esker, eskar, eschar, or os, sometimes called an asar, osar, or serpent kame, 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. Eskers are frequently several kilometres long and, because of their peculiar uniform shape, are somewhat like railway embankments.

A kame delta is a glacial landform formed by a stream of melt water flowing through or around a glacier and depositing material, known as kame deposits. Upon entering a proglacial lake at the end (terminus) of a glacier, the river/stream deposit these sediments. This landform can be observed after the glacier has melted and the delta's asymmetrical triangular shape is visible. Once the glacier melts, the edges of the delta may subside as ice under it melts. Glacial till is deposited on the lateral sides of the delta, as the glacier melts.

Glacial erratic piece of rock that differs from the size and type of rock native to the area in which it rests

A glacial erratic is glacially-deposited rock differing from the size and type of rock native to the area in which it rests. "Erratics" take their name from the Latin word errare, and are carried by glacial ice, often over distances of hundreds of kilometres. Erratics can range in size from pebbles to large boulders such as Big Rock in Alberta.

Kettle (landform) A depression/hole in an outwash plain formed by retreating glaciers or draining floodwaters

A kettle is a depression/hole in an outwash plain formed by retreating glaciers or draining floodwaters. The kettles are formed as a result of blocks of dead ice left behind by retreating glaciers, which become surrounded by sediment deposited by meltwater streams as there is increased friction. The ice becomes buried in the sediment and when the ice melts, a depression is left called a kettle hole, creating a dimpled appearance on the outwash plain. Lakes often fill these kettles; these are called kettle hole lakes. Another source is the sudden drainage of an ice-dammed lake. When the block melts, the hole it leaves behind is a kettle. As the ice melts, ramparts can form around the edge of the kettle hole. The lakes that fill these holes are seldom more than 10 m (33 ft) deep and eventually become filled with sediment. In acid conditions, a kettle bog may form but in alkaline conditions, it will be kettle peatland.

Outwash plain Plain formed from glacier sediment that was transported by meltwater.

An outwash plain, also called a sandur, sandr or sandar, is a plain formed of glacial sediments deposited by meltwater outwash at the terminus of a glacier. As it flows, the glacier grinds the underlying rock surface and carries the debris along. The meltwater at the snout of the glacier deposits its load of sediment over the outwash plain, with larger boulders being deposited near the terminal moraine, and smaller particles travelling further before being deposited. Sandurs are common in Iceland where geothermal activity accelerates the melting of ice flows and the deposition of sediment by meltwater.

Glacial landform Landform created by the action of glaciers

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.

Glacial lake lake formed by a melted glacier

A glacial lake is a body of water with origins from glacier activity. They are formed when a glacier erodes the land, and then melts, filling the depression created by the glacier.

Fluvio refers to things related to rivers and glacial refers to something that is of ice. Fluvio-glacial refers to the meltwater created when a glacier melts. Fluvio-glacial processes can occur on the surface and within the glacier. The deposits that happen within the glacier are revealed after the entire glacier melts or partially retreats. Fluvio-glacial landforms and erosional surfaces include: outwash plains, kames, kame terraces, kettle holes, eskers, varves, and proglacial lakes.

Tunnel valley A U-shaped valley originally cut by water under the glacial ice near the margin of continental ice sheets

A tunnel valley is a 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. They can be as long as 100 km (62 mi), 4 km (2.5 mi) wide, and 400 m (1,300 ft) deep.

U-shaped valley Valleys formed by glacial scouring

U-shaped valleys, trough valleys or glacial troughs, are formed by the process of glaciation. They are characteristic of mountain glaciation in particular. They have a characteristic U shape, with steep, straight sides and a flat or rounded bottom. Glaciated valleys are formed when a glacier travels across and down a slope, carving the valley by the action of scouring. When the ice recedes or thaws, the valley remains, often littered with small boulders that were transported within the ice, called glacial till or glacial erratic.

Rogen moraine Landform of ridges deposited by a glacier or ice sheet transverse to ice flow

A Rogen moraine is a subglacially formed type of moraine landform, that mainly occurs in Fennoscandia, Scotland, Ireland and Canada. It is one of the three main types of [hummocky moraines]. They cover large areas that have been covered by ice, and occur mostly in what is believed to have been the central areas of the ice sheets. Rogen moraines are named after Lake Rogen in Härjedalen, Sweden, the landform's type locality. Rogen Nature Reserve serves to protect the unusual area.

Glacial history of Minnesota

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.

Supraglacial lake pond of liquid water on the top of a glacier

A supraglacial lake is any pond of liquid water on the top of a glacier. Although these pools are ephemeral, they may reach kilometers in diameter and be several meters deep. They may last for months or even decades at a time, but can empty in the course of hours.

A washboard moraine, also known as minor or corrugated moraine, is a geomorphic feature caused by glaciers. The name "washboard moraine" refers to the fact that, from the air, it resembles a washboard.

A Veiki moraine is a type of moraine found in northern Sweden, Troms og Finnmark in Norway, and parts of Canada. This moraine is characterized by forming a hummocky landscape of irregular moraine plateaus with elevated rims that are intercalated with ponds. Gunnar Hoppe was the first to define the Veiki moraine concept in 1952, naming it after a locality consisting of two farms located about 10 kilometers north of Gällivare and Malmberget. To the east in Finnish Lapland, a moraine type similar to Veiki moraine but smaller is known as Pulju moraine since 1967.

The glacial series refers to a particular sequence of landforms in Central Europe that were formed during the Pleistocene glaciation beneath the ice sheets, along their margins and on their forelands during each glacial advance.


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