Title Bar: Illustrated Glossary of Alpine Glacial Landforms

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    Erosional Landforms
    Giant stair steps
    Glacial trough
    Hanging valley
    Paternoster lakes
    U-shaped valley

    Depositional Landforms
    End moraine
    Ground moraine
    Lateral moraine
    Medial moraine

    Ice Features
    Cirque glacier
    Valley glacier
    Ice fall

Photo: valley glacier Photo: valley glacier
Photo: S. Hillebrand. 2008. US Fish and Wildlife Service National Digital Library, photo Volume1\ED5BDC7D-65BF-03E7-2FCE9EE8E0179796.jpg. <http://www.fws.gov/digitalmedia> Accessed June 2010.

Photo: B. Molnia. U.S. Geological Survey Alaskan Glaciers, image dsc00141. <http://www.usgs.gov/features/glaciers2.html> Accessed July, 2010.

Photo: valley glacier

The three photos here show examples of glaciers with flow that is restricted by pre-existing topography; the topography dictates where the ice flows, and the ice flows down pre-existing valleys. Thus, these are all examples of valley glaciers.

The top left photo shows just one valley glacier that is clearly flowing downhill. All valley glaciers flow downhill.

The downhill flow of ice is also evident in the top right photo where several valley glaciers merge to form a single large valley glacier. This valley glacier has retreated from its maximum size, and you can tell this by the fact that the valley downstream from the glacier terminus is U-shaped.

The valley glacier in the foreground of the bottom left photo is the result of two smaller valley glaciers merging; you can see the two smaller valley glaciers branching off to the left and the right toward the back of the photo. Although the topography in the bottom left photo appears flatter than that in the top two photos, this ice is still flowing downhill.

Photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service. 2008. Volume1\BE37805C-65B8-D693-77BF365AFB90544A.jpg. Accessed June 2010.

The topographic map below shows Tonsina Glacier in Alaska, an example of a valley glacier. The brown contour lines define the slope and shape of the valley walls while the blue contour lines define the slope and shape of the glacier. A dashed blue line defines the edges of the glacier. Two index contours, the 4000 ft contour line and the 3500 ft contour line, cross the glacier indicating the elevation of the glacier surface. Elevations on the valley walls go up to over 5000 ft, telling you that the valley walls are higher than the glacier surface, which means the valley walls will restrict ice flow.

At one time the glacier on the map was larger than it currently is. You can determine this by examining the valley beyond the glacier. The valley floor is wide and relatively flat (it is U-shaped) and is covered with moraine deposits (brown speckles). The bend in the valley just beyond the terminus was most likely there before the glacier filled the valley and modified the valley shape.

Topographic map: valley glacier

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All commercial rights reserved. Copyright 2010 by Karen A. Lemke. Earlier copyright 2002 by Karen A. Lemke, and 1998 by Karen A. Lemke and Linda Freeman.
Last updated August 2010 KAL.