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Glossary of Glacier Terminology

Types of Glaciers:


July 1986 LANDSAT TM image of the terminus of Hubbard Glacier at the head of Yakutat Bay, Wrangell - St Elias National Park, Alaska. At the time that this digital image was made, the glacier's terminus was blocking the entrance to Russell Fiord. Image from USGS EROS Data Center.

·Calving Glacier

A glacier with a terminus that ends in a body of water (river, lake, ocean) into which it calves icebergs.


Photograph of the calving terminus of Tyndall Glacier, located at the head of Taan Fiord, Icy Bay, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park, Alaska. The large mountain to the right is Mt. St. Elias.

·Cirque glacier

A small glacier that forms within a cirque basin, generally high on the side of a mountain.


Northeast-looking oblique aerial photograph showing a small, unnamed cirque glacier located on the south flanks of Mount Fairweather, Fairweather Range, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska.

North-looking oblique aerial photograph showing a small, unnamed hanging glacier located in the Chugach Mountains, near Cordova Peak, Chugach National Forest, Alaska.

·Hanging glacier

A glacier that originates high on the wall of a glacier valley and descends only part of the way to the surface of the main glacier. Avalanching and icefalls are the mechanisms for ice and snow transfer to the valley floor below.


Northeast-looking photograph showing three small, unnamed hanging glaciers descending to the surface of the Vaughn Lewis Glacier, Juneau Icefield, Tongass National Forest, Coast Mountains, Alaska.

Northwest-looking oblique aerial photograph showing several small, unnamed hanging glaciers located in the Chugach Mountains, near Cordova Peak, Chugach National Forest, Alaska. Only the hanging glacier in the center of the photograph reaches the debris-covered glacier on the valley floor.

North-looking NOAA AVHRR satellite image of the western side of the Greenland Ice Cap. The body of water west of Greenland is Baffin Bay.

·Ice Cap

A dome-shaped accumulation of glacier ice and perennial snow that completely covers a mountainous area or island, so that no peaks or Nunataks poke through.


North-looking oblique aerial photograph of an unnamed, snow-covered ice field, located on the south side of Blackstone Bay, Kenai Mountains, western Prince William Sound, Chugach National Forest, Alaska.

·Ice Field

A continuous accumulation of snow and glacier ice that completely fills a mountain basin or covers a low-relief mountain plateau to a substantial depth. When the thickness become great enough, tongues of ice overflow the basins or plateaus as Valley Glaciers.


South-looking oblique aerial photograph of the Harding Ice Field, Kenai Fjords National Park, Kenai Mountains, Alaska. The cloud-covered Gulf of Alaska is at the top of the photograph.

·Ice Sheet

A thick, subcontinental to continental-scale accumulation of glacier ice and perennial snow that spreads from a center of accumulation, typically in all directions. Also called a Continental Glacier.


North-looking photograph across the Antarctic Ice Sheet. In the foreground are some of the research facilities located at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, South Pole Antarctica.

July 1985 LANDSAT TM image of the part of the piedmont lobe terminus of Malaspina Glacier, located on the west side of Yakutat Bay, Wrangell - St Elias National Park, AK. At the time that this digital image was made, only a small quantity of snow was present on the glacier's terminus, hence many folded moraines are visible. Image from USGS EROS Data Center.

·Piedmont glacier

A fan or lobe-shaped glacier, located at the front of a mountain range. It forms when one or more valley glaciers flow from a confined valley onto a plain where it expands. The 30-mile wide Malaspina is the largest in Alaska.


East-looking oblique aerial photograph of the piedmont lobe terminus of the advancing Taku Glacier, located in Taku Inlet, Coast Mountains, Tongass National Forest, Alaska. The width of the glacier's terminus is ~ 5 miles.

December 1986 photograph of the author standing at the South Pole, on the snow-covered surface of the polar glacier that covers Antarctica.

·Polar Glacier

A glacier with a thermal or temperature regime in which ice temperatures always remain below the freezing point.


NOAA AVHRR satellite image of the Antarctica, showing the polar glacier ice that covers more than 97% of the continent.

Southwest-looking oblique aerial photograph of the reconstituted Ogive Glacier, located on the shore of Northwestern Fjord, Kenai Fjords National Park, Kenai Mountains, Alaska.

·Reconstituted Glacier

A glacier formed below the terminus of a hanging glacier by the accumulation, and reconstitution by pressure melting (regelation), of ice blocks that have fallen and/or avalanched from the terminus of the hanging glacier. Also called Glacier Remanié.


North-looking photograph of several small unnamed reconstituted glaciers, located at the head of Icy Bay, Wrangell - St Elias National Park, St Elias Mountains, Alaska.

Northwest-looking oblique aerial photograph of an unnamed rock glacier heading in a cirque, located on the southeast side of the Talkeetna Mountains, Alaska.

·Rock Glacier

A glacier-like landform that often heads in a cirque and consists of a valley-filling accumulation of angular rock blocks. Rock glaciers have little or no visible ice at the surface. Ice may fill the spaces between rock blocks. Some rock glaciers move, although very slowly.


South-looking oblique aerial photograph of an unnamed rock glacier with multiple flow lobes, located in the Metal Creek drainage on the north side of the Chugach Mountains, Alaska.

·Temperate Glacier

A glacier with a or temperature-regime in which liquid water coexists with frozen water (glacier ice) during part or even all of the year.


Northeast-looking photograph showing the stream and pond covered-surface of the Taku Glacier, Juneau Icefield, Tongas National Forest, Coast Mountains, Alaska.

·Tidewater Glacier

A glacier with a terminus that ends in a body of water influenced by tides, such as the ocean or a large lake. Typically, tidewater glaciers calve ice to produce icebergs.


Northwest-looking oblique aerial photograph of the tidewater terminus of the calving Chenega Glacier, located at sea level in western Prince William Sound, Kenai Mountains, Alaska.

·Valley Glacier

A glacier that flows for all or most of its length within the walls of a mountain valley. Also called an Alpine Glacier or a Mountain Glacier.


Northeast-looking oblique aerial photograph of the upper part of the Bucher Glacier, an outlet glacier of the Juneau Icefield, Coast Mountains, Tongass National Forest, Alaska. The length of the glacier shown is ~ 5 miles.

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