Every time we look at glaciers we’ve got a feeling of quiet awe for these impressive natural sights! Glaciers form when snow remains in one location long enough to transform into ice. What makes them unique is their ability to flow. These slow-moving rivers of ice have sculpted mountains and carved valleys throughout Earth’s history. They continue to flow and shape the landscape in many places today.
Beautiful and breath-taking they’ve captured human’s attention for centuries! To satisfy your curiosity, here are some interesting facts about glaciers…
Glaciers are made up of fallen snow that, over many years, compresses into large, thickened ice masses.
Forming a glacier is a painfully slow process that takes place throughout hundreds of years.
Covering around 10% of the earth’s surface – or 5.8 million sq.-miles (15 million km²) – glaciers are far more important than most people realize.
They contain roughly 75% of the world’s fresh water supply – so it’s a pretty big deal that an estimated 90% of glaciers worldwide are melting.
One of the most impressive facts about glaciers is their age. The Antarctic Ice Sheet is estimated by scientists to be at least 30 million years old, while the Greenland Ice Sheet is a relative newcomer at only 2.5 million years old.
The Arctic and Antarctic are where 99% of all glacial ice is located. That said, the Greenland Ice Sheet covers 660 sq.-miles (1,710,000km²) – about 80% of the surface of Greenland.
Chile also boasts a fairly sizeable collection of glaciers, being home to 31,000 – over 80% of all those located in South America.
Glaciers are found in 47 countries.
Because of how dense glacier ice becomes, it looks a lot different than the ice we normally see in ice cubes or our freezers.
Glaciers act as a filter and absorb red and yellow light but reflect blue, which explains why they seem their blue color.
Older sections of glacial ice are even denser and appear even darker in color.
The largest glacier on the planet, Lambert Glacier, is an enormous 60-miles (96 km) wide and 270-miles (435 km) long and found in Antarctica.
The Kutiah Glacier in Pakistan holds the record for the fastest glacial surge. In 1953, it raced more than 12 kilometres (7.5 miles) in three months, averaging about 112 meters (367 feet) per day.
In Washington State, the state with the largest area of glaciers in the contiguous United States, melting glaciers provides 1.8 trillion litres (470 billion gallons) of water each summer.
Alaska is estimated to have more than 100,000 glaciers. Most remain unnamed.
Mountain valleys were typically “V” shaped before being taken over by a glacier. During glaciation, the valley widens and deepens and thus becomes “U” shaped.
An ice cap is a dome-shaped glacier mass flowing in all directions, such as the ice cap on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic.
An ice sheet is a dome-shaped glacier mass exceeding 50,000 square kilometres. The world’s ice sheets are confined to Greenland and Antarctica.
Patagonia has seen the impact of glaciation. The Patagonian Ice Sheet that once covered the southern Andes was responsible for forming much of the glacial landscapes that can be identified in Patagonia today.
The remains of this epic sheet of ice exist in the Northern and Southern Patagonian Ice Fields that feed into famous glaciers such as Perito Moreno in Argentina and Pía Glacier in Chile.
Glaciers occasionally form over active volcanoes. In 1996, the Grímsvötn volcano of Iceland violently erupted even though it had been buried by roughly 2000 feet of glacial ice. A flood of epic proportions was triggered – one that caused $50 million in damages.
Although most people are aware of how worryingly quickly glaciers have been melting over the past hundred years, between the 17th- and 19th-centuries, the planet experienced a “Little Ice Age”. During this time, glaciers were able to advance and grow thanks to a prolonged period of cooler temperatures.
Unfortunately, if all the land ice on the planet were to melt, worldwide sea levels would rise by 230 ft. (70m) – about the same height as a 30-story building.
Trying to reduce the speed of melting in glaciers is important to the planet as a whole and is being actively pursued by scientists across the globe.
Alpine glaciers flow downwards from mountaintops and slide through valleys.
Continental glaciers, on the other hand, are large, horizontal expanses that aren’t seriously affected by the hills or mountains they cover.
Gravity causes the ice inside glaciers to change shape and move.
Glaciers can move at a rate of over 50 feet per day.
In the summer of 2012, the Jakobshavn Glacier in Greenland set a new world record by traveling an impressive – by glacial standards, at least – 150 feet per day.
Glaciers flow from higher ground to lower ground. However, they flow so slowly that if you were standing next to a glacier, you probably wouldn’t notice it was moving.
In cold and snowy climates, glaciers can flow all the way down to the sea.
Sometimes pieces of glaciers – called icebergs – can break off into the ocean.
Glaciers are usually made of mostly ice, but they also pick up particles as they move.
NASA’s OMG (Oceans Melting Greenland) mission studies the many ways that ocean waters are affecting marine glaciers.
Glacier melt delivers nutrients into lakes, rivers, and oceans. Those nutrients can drive blooms of phytoplankton—the base of aquatic and marine food chains.
Meanwhile, gradual glacier melt sustains stream habitats for plants and animals. So, glaciers often have an indirect impact on wildlife and fisheries.
Do you have any interesting or fun facts about glaciers that we’ve missed? Share them here in the comments section below!