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Processes in glacial environments

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Glaciers radically transform landscapes because they carry out four types of geomorphological work.

  1. 1. glacial erosion: erosion of rock by the direct action of moving glaciers.
  2. 2. glacial transportation: movement of debris that is either frozen within the glacier or lying on the surface.
  3. 3. glacial deposition: occurs when rock debris, either frozen within the glacier or lying on the surface, is deposited onto the ground by melting of ice.
  4. 4. glaciofluvial activity: processes (erosion, transportation, deposition) caused action of meltwater streams.

Another important process that operates within glacial areas is frost weathering or freeze-thaw action. Frost weathering causes the disintegration of rock masses into fragmented debris due to the growth and expansion of ice in joints and pores. Once a rock mass has been weakened by frost weathering it collapses under the force of gravity. If this occurs on a steep slope the loosened debris moves down the slope as rockfall.

Frost weathering in glacial areas is significant for two reasons.

  • 1. Increases the impact of glacial erosion since prior to the onset of glaciation frost weathering weakens rock surfaces.
  • 2. Frost weathering of rock slopes on the flanks of glacial valleys supplies debris to the surface of a glacier. This debris may eventually be deposited as till or may be transported down to the base of a glacier to become to the tools of erosion.

The action of these glacial environment processes is shaping and has shaped the landscapes in contemporary glacial areas and regions that were glaciated during the Ice Ages.

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