Arctic Information: Introduction To Glaciers

How a glacier is formed, different types of ice formations, guide to locations, and instructions for planning a vacation to see these amazing natural wonders.

Glaciers are, in a nutshell, huge pieces of ice. But how do they form? And why are they important? Read this article to learn of the creation and importance of glaciers.

Glaciers exist in all parts of the world. They are formed when temperatures are right, but they also need a certain kind of atmosphere and precipitation. Certain areas of the world contain dry ground or tundra instead of glaciers, because precipitation and climate are not correct. Since hot summers also melt a glacier, glaciers tend to form in places where the temperature is the same all year round.

Glaciers form in areas where the temperature dips below zero. They are formed from large layers of snow pressing down. The weight of snow produces thick ice beneath itself, and this is the start of a glacier. When snow presses down, it begins to clump in larger pieces known as "firn grains." These grains increase in size, pushing air from underneath the snow. Lack of air is what makes the surface and inside of a glacier so dense. Often, when glaciers reach a mass of more than 15 meters, they begin to move due to their size and the weight of gravity. It is often the case the glaciers seem to "flow" down a mountain or toward a stream or lake. This flowing motion is aided by the friction that a glacier causes against the surface of the earth.



Glaciers can exist in three typical states, according to the temperatures that they form in and the corresponding temperatures of the ice. Glaciers that form in polar areas are called "polar glaciers," and contain very cold ice. Glaciers that are further off the poles and in more temperature conditions are called "subpolar glaciers." Glaciers in warmer, temperate conditions are called "temperate glaciers," and these contain ice that is relatively warm. These glaciers are the most dangerous to man, because they contain holes and sometimes leak, causing floods and the occasional avalanche.

Glaciers are so vast and heavy that they often reform the terrain that they move across. It is not uncommon to see flat ground, valleys and holes formed by the scraping of a glacier. Vegetation often disappears when a glacier is moving across land, and reappears in different forms when the glacier has left. These areas are of great interest to scientists, because they can give clues about the early geological formation of the earth. Scouring glaciers for evidence of evaporation, wind damage, acid rain and erosion are ways in which scientists can ascertain information about our planet.

Glaciers are also very important to the stability of the environment. Changes in heat and atmosphere can cause glaciers to melt, change shape and move more rapidly. Bodies of water change in response to glacier evaporation and melting. The faster a glacier moves, the more land is reforms in its movement. For these reason, it is important that scientists monitor glacier movement and water flow. Glacier determine a large part of our natural environment, and will continue to do so far into the future.

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