Glaciers and Glacial Deposits
• Climate indicators
– Growth is episodic (advance and retreat)
• Long term changes (Miller et al.) in Cenozoic (and earlier)
• Shorter term changes associated with insolation (100 ky and 23
ky cycles- Milankovitch Cycles)
• High resolution changes (< 1000 years)
– Mini- ice ages (Washington crossed frozen Delaware)
• Use physical characteristics of glacial processes to infer
– e.g., Pangaea was covered with glaciers
» So America, Africa, India, Australia
Types of Glaciers
• Alpine- elevation dependent
– valley glaciers
• confined to within mountain walls
– piedmont glaciers
• form at base of mountain and are coalesced valley glaciers
• Continental- high latitude
– 3 scales
– ice sheets
• only in Antarctica and Greenland; over 50,000 km2
– includes ice caps (Smaller ice sheets)
– ice shelves (extend over sea; floats on water).
• Function of water budget and mass balance
– add snow, keep it through summer
• above snow line! or cold summer temps like poles
– begin to build glacier as snow becomes more
dense (Snow->Firn ->then glacial ice)
– Add snow; lose snow
• Balanced if acc. = ablation
• Growth if accumulation > ablation
• Balance between amount of ppt (growth)
and amount of melt (ablation)
– add ppt, more glacier/ advance/ Wax
– ablation- water melts down snout of glacier,
thinning and retreating
• ablate, less glacier / retreat/ Wane
Growth/ Motion
• Glacial motion
– 1x10 cm/s to 2x10 cm/s (max ~ 1 m/day)
– flows as high-viscosity fluid;
• fastest flow on top; lower towards base and walls
• entrains sediments
• 4 environments to describe glacier itself
• basal (subglacial) zone
– in contact with bed
• supraglacial zone
– upper surface of the glacier
• ice- contact zone
– around margin of glacier
• englacial zone
– within glacial interior
Surrounding environments
• Proglacial
– area around glacier but not in contact
– influenced by melting ice
• Outwash plain
– glaciolacustrine, glaciofluvial, glaciomarine
• Periglacial
– non-glacial phenomena that function in cold climates
– permafrost
Life History
• Glacier builds, begins to move
• Glacier erodes and entrains sediments
– Glaciers rework its own sediment as glacier advances
and retreats
– Most sediment is incorporated as glacier moves along
• Sediments are usually compositionally and texturally
– Traverses hills, previously deposited moraines
– Rocks at base are scoured
• scratches bedrock; striations // to flow
Life History
• Death!
– melts back (rarely completely)
– glacier actually always has a forward motion
• mass of ice squeezes it forward even in retreat
• melts completely when nose thins to ~ 50 m thickness
• leaves sedimentary deposit
– Previously incorporated sediment which melts out
– Poorly sorted
• Outwash
– tunnels often run beneath ice, flushing out sediments
– or breaks off in to sea
eventually breaks off into the ocean
Erosion Processes
• Glaciers affect land surface by eroding it and/or
leaving landforms behind
• Erosion
– scrapes up sediment
– erodes rock
cirque- deep erosional recess
arete- as cirques grow headward
horn- pointed, 3-sided
col- knifes edge boundary between adjacent cirques
Hanging valley
U-shaped valley
Glacial Deposits -Till
• Till
– material deposited as glacier retreats
– gravel, pebbles, sand, mud
– rocks are ground as glacier moves
Glacial Deposits- Moraines
– End moraine
• when glacier stalls (low accumulation relative to ablation),
glacier continues to move debris to melting snout; this is the
– Lateral
• Marginal
• debris is concentrated along edges of glacier
– bound by wall
– Medial
• where lateral moraines join, can form in middle
– Ground
• sheet of debris developed during retreat
– Recessional
• like end, but occurs during retreat
Medial, Lateral
This photo shows two medial moraines (blue arrows) as seen from the air. The black arrows
point to lateral moraines that have formed along the sides of the valley wall. Where the two
main glaciers shown in the photo flow together, their lateral moraines join to form a medial
moraine. The medial moraine on the right formed in the same way, however we can't see where
the glaciers flow together to form the moraine.
Rivers and Lakes
• Rivers
– Generally braided streams, especially near
glacial front
• lots of coarse but fines also present too
Rivers and Lakes
• Lakes
– forms from damming (ice or moraine damming as glaciers
drain water
– most sediments (and water) released in summer
• Laminated sediments accumulate finer sediments (glacial flour)
– 1 varve = 2 layers (couplet) of light (summer) and dark (winter
– delta may form at river mouth
• coarse sediments closest to river; sediments thin away from delta
– generally better sorted than river; no clays
– distal
• should find dropstones
• turbidites from sediment overload ; density driven lobes of sediments
• Winds attack deposits on outwash plains
– lead to loess deposits
– most effective after glacial melt and before revegetation
– cap the facies by reworking glacial sediments
Glacial- marine
• little reworking
– when glacier meets sea it dumps load
– sediments can fall out of melting glaciers (IRD)
• IRD- Ice Rafted Debris
– silty freshwater plume rides over denser, saline
– sediments settle out of suspension
• turbidity current
Other glacial features
• Kettles- small lakes
– small piece of ice breaks off and is covered by sediments,
then melts
• Eskers– water flow thru tunnels stops and deposits seds; tunnel
eventually collapses; leaves snakey deposits which remain
after ice has melted; coarse seds accumulate under tunnels;
often well- sorted (fluvial- like)
• Drumlin
– tear-drop shaped mounds; glacier deposits material and
then rides over it; // to flow
• Glacial erratics
– boulders and other rocks which don’t match regional
lithology (carried in)
Glacial Erratic
Proglacial area
• just in front of glacier
– ice contact environment
– sediments are released form melting at front of ice
• there is very little integrated drainage
– small lakes, mudflows, river deposits
– sediments are a jumbled mess!
• sorting improves with more distal areas
– lakes, rivers, deltas
• At most distal regions
– cap of eolian sediments
– dunes, ripples
Facies- ON LAND
• Diamict
– poorly sorted glacial deposits
• Diamictites
– consolidated diamict
• Unstratified diamictites
land-based deposit
pebbles are often dominant
may be aligned with long axes dipping upstream
often bimodal (pebbles and matrix of sand, silt, clay)
• Stratified diamictites
– ice contact sediments
– transported by meltwater (braided streams)
– Unimodal
• Till
Differentiating from Non- glacial
• Glaciofluvial braided streams
– Very hard to differentiate from non-glacial streams
• Glaciolacustrine
– Look for
• range in particle size reflecting seasonal contributions
• possible slumps close to glacier
• Varves
• Other clues to glacial environment
– outwash plains
• dunes may be present (sands picked up by winds)
– loess- deflation of angular grains of silts; unstratified
Facies- AT SEA
• Proximal
– glacier margin in direct contact with sea
– submarine fans (delta- like)
coarse cobbles, gravels at top of fans
sands, gravels in stream channels
IRD – scattered
muds, sands- suspended seds which settle out
• Distal facies
away from direct contact with glacier
icebergs melt
IRD- fine and coarse
iceberg grounding
• icebergs touch bottom and erode and rework it
– some stratification
– marine fossils
=glaciomarine drift
Vertical Facies Succession
• Advance/ retreat of glaciers leads to
destruction/ reworking of previously deposited
• Vertical accumulation
– best way to differentiate is regional pattern.
– common to northern US,
• saw advance/ retreat of glacers in Pleistocene at ~ 100 ky
periods with wiggles at 23 ky.
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