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Glacial Depositional Landforms

Glacial Depositional Landforms

Did you know that glaciers covered 32% of the land during the last ice age? If you look at the landscapes that the glaciers used to cover, there are clues literally scattered around. Retreating glaciers leave behind soil and rocks; from finding and looking at the different types of landforms, we can tell where the glaciers came from, how they moved and where they melted. From the clues in the landforms, we can tell the planet looked very different to the present. Let's explore the various landforms that the glacial deposition process creates and leaves behind.

Glacial Depositional Landforms creation

Glacial depositional landforms are created when the glacier retreats and leave behind crushed rock and sediments (also known as glacial drift) that they are carrying.

Glacial depositional landforms are natural features formed from the glacier leaving behind the material they were carrying. It can range from a small pile of stones to one massive boulder.

Glaciers are not just blocks of pure ice but layers and layers of compacted snow. This means that every now and then, materials such as soil, rocks and other sediments fall in and become part of the glacier. This can happen from a nearby surface being weathered by processes such as freeze-thaw weathering, meaning rocks would break off, or landslides can drop material onto a glacier. They can also collect material by picking up rocks and soil that they pass by and over from an erosional process called plucking. So when the glacier retreats, it will start to deposit some of the material it was carrying.

The articles Glacial landforms and Glacial erosion landforms will help understand the bigger picture!

Glacial Depositional Landforms causes

Glacial depositional landforms are created from the glacier retreating, so they are often found in lower altitudes in lower valleys where the temperature is warmer. As the glacier melts, it loses the capacity to carry and deposits some of its material.

Glaciers advance and retreat naturally during their lifetime; there may be a slight summer glacial retreat which is then made up in the winter.

Glaciers advance and retreat. When there is more snow and ice added than lost through melting or evaporating, the glacier will advance. When there is less snow and ice added than lost melting or evaporating, the glacier will retreat.

However, glacial retreat is accelerating because of the Earth's warming. The rising sea levels due to the glaciers melting and the appearance of more glacial depositional landforms are both signs of the acceleration of glacial retreat.

Glacial Depositional Landforms types

There are many types of glacial depositional landforms, drumlins, erratics, moraines, outwash plain, esker, kettle and kame. The three major glacial depositional landforms would be drumlins, erratics and moraines.

Drumlins

Drumlins are elongated hills made from glacial deposits and are compared to shapes such as an inverted spoon or a partially buried egg. It has a high-rounded back and a narrow tail. The long axis indicates the direction that the glacier was moving in. They can reach 4.3 mi/7km in length, 1.2 mi/2km in width and 98 ft/30m in height. Drumlins are found on flat lowland areas, extending parallel to the glacial flow. Often found in groups, they are called a drumlin swarm or a basket of eggs. It is said that drumlins are formed from the material deposited underneath a glacier and as the glacier moves over it. However, glaciologists disagree on how drumlins are formed.

Glacial depositional landforms drowned drumlin in Clew Bay, County Mayo, IrelandFig. 1 - Drowned drumlin in Clew Bay, County Mayo, Ireland

Did you know: the word drumlin comes from the Irish (Gaelic) word 'droimnín' which translates into 'littlest ridge'.

Erratics

Erratics are rocks that have been deposited by the glacier after travelling often over hundreds of miles/kilometres. They are often large rocks that are entirely different to the rock type found in the area and are found alone rather than in piles. By tracing the parent bedrock, it's possible to tell the ice flow route of the glacier.

Glacial depositional landforms glacial erratic boulder in Eryri, Snowdonia, Wales StudySmarterFig. 2 - Glacial erratic boulder in Eryri, Snowdonia, Wales

Did you know: the word erratic comes from the Latin word 'errare' which means 'to wander'. Very apt for these boulders that 'wander' for quite a distance.

Moraines

A moraine is a fragment of rock transported by the glacier and deposited when it has melted. It is one of the most commonly found glacial depositional landforms, often found wherever a glacier exists. The size of the fragments can vary from fine powder to large boulders. However, it is often angular as it has formed from being frozen and then shattering. There are different types of moraines:

  • Terminal moraine - is found at the terminus, the glacier's snout as it retreats.
  • Lateral moraine - is found on the side of glaciers.
  • Medial moraine - is deposited at the junction of two glaciers.
  • Ground moraine - is a disorganised pile of rocks of different sizes and types.

Glacial depositional landforms Medial moraine in Greenland StudySmarterFig. 3 - Medial moraine in Nuusuaq Peninsula, Greenland

The glacier's terminus is the end of the glacier, the lowest end, also known as the snout or toe.

Outwash plain

An outwash plain is formed from fine material carried by melted ice (also known as meltwater).

Outwash is the material carried away by meltwater and deposited over a wide area.

The meltwater outwash is at the terminus of the glacier. They are also called sandur, sandr or sandar. Outwash plains are often found in Iceland as geothermal activity accelerates the melting of ice flows and the deposition of sediments by meltwater and other glaciated areas such as Svalbard.

Glacial depositional landforms outwash plain at Skeiðarársandur, Iceland StudySmarterFig. 4 - Outwash plain at Skeiðarársandur, Iceland, viewed from the terminus os Svínafellsjökull glacier

Did you know: that fossil sandar, sandars that are no longer active, are found in formerly glaciated areas such as the Usk Valley in South Wales?

Esker

An esker is a long winding ridge made from stratified gravel and sand deposited by meltwater travelling through tunnels underneath glaciers or the meltwater channels on top of glaciers. Gradually the channel or tunnel becomes filled with sediments, and then the ice retreats leaving the ridge behind. Eskers are often several miles/km long. Due to the ease of access, they are quarried for their gravel and sand for construction.

Glacial depositional landforms Esker at Fulufjället in Western Sweden StudySmarterFig. 5 - Esker at Fulufjället in Western Sweden

Did you know: That Eskers are vital to Northern Canada's ecology? Several of the plants growing there, such as bear root and cranberries, are an essential food source for bears and migrating waterfowl. Animals such as grizzly bears, tundra wolves and ground squirrels burrow into eskers to survive the long and often harsh winters.

Kettles

Kettles are holes formed by glacial outwash that comes from a detached piece of ice that is partially or wholly buried, and when the ice melts, it leaves a void. Sometimes they become filled with water and become kettle lakes. They are usually round in shape as ice tends to become round as it melts. Kettles range in sizes from 16 ft/5 m to 8 mi/13 km in diameter and up to 148 ft/45 m in depth.

Glacial depositional landforms kettle in the highlands of Isunngua, Greenland StudySmarterFig. 6 - Kettle in the highlands of Isunngua, Greenland

Did you know: there are several kettle examples in the UK, such as Bomere Pool in Shropshire, Talkin Tarn in Cumbria, both in England, and Loch Morlich in the Scottish Highlands, close to Aviemore.

Kame

A kame is an irregularly shaped hill or mound made of sand and gravel that has accumulated in a depression on a retreating glacier and was deposited at the glacier's terminus. A group of kames can be called kame field or kame complex and can be found with kettles or kettle lakes.

Glacial depositional landforms Kame field StudySmarterFig. 7 - Kame field in Washington, US

Glacial Depositional Landforms diagram

Some photographs can capture glacial depositional landforms. However, diagrams can clarify and show what each landform looks like. The diagram below shows a drumlin swarm; it clearly presents the elongated hills with a high-ended back and a narrow tail.

Glacial depositional landforms Diagram of drumlin swarm StudySmarter Fig. 8 - Diagram of drumlin swarm

Below is a diagram of an esker used as a hiking route. Because of their uniform shape, they are said to look like railway embankments.

Glacial depositional landforms Diagram of esker as hike route StudySmarter Fig. 9 - Diagram of esker used as a hiking path

This is a diagram with all the glacial depositional landforms mentioned in the article concerning a receding glacier. While in reality, they don't all occur in one place, it helps to see them situated in relation to each other.

Glacial depositional landforms Diagram of glacial depositional landforms StudySmarter Fig. 10 - Diagram of glacial depositional landforms

Glacial Depositional Landforms examples

Let us look at some examples of depositional landforms in detail.

Horicon Marsh, Wisconsin, US

Horicon Marsh in Wisconsin, US, was created during the Pleistocene era when Wisconsin was glaciated. It has one of the highest numbers of drumlins in the world. The glacier created many drumlins whilst advancing, and many have become islands in the marsh. The marshes were created by a glacier retreating and forming a moraine. This moraine became a natural dam which collected melted glacier water and made Glacial Lake Horicon. The Rock River eroded the moraine and drained the water. The marshes formed as the peat, silt, and clay accumulated on the lakes basin.

Glacial depositional landforms Drumlins around Horicon Marsh StudySmarterFig. 11 - Drumlins around Horicon Marsh, Wisconsin, US

Big Rock, Alberta, Canada

Big Rock is a large erratic which has broken in two with the measurement of 134.5 by 59 ft and 29.5 ft high (41 by 18 m and 9 m) in the Canadian Prairies in Alberta. It is one of the erratics on the Foothills Erratics Train, which is a 578 mi/930 km long linear scatter of erratics. Big Rock was part of the Athabasca River valley; it travelled through a landslide between 12,000 and 17,000 years ago and was carried on top of a glacier and ice stream.

Glacial depositional landforms Big Rock on the Canadian Prairies StudySmarter Fig. 12 - Big Rock on the Candian Prairies

Glacial Depositional Landforms - Key takeaways

  • Glaciers are not just blocks of pure ice but hold materials such as soil, sand and gravel. Glacial depositional landforms are created when the glacier retreats and leaves behind crushed rock and sediments that they are carrying.
  • Glacial depositional landforms are created from the glacier retreating, so they are often found in lower altitudes in lower valleys where the temperature is warmer. In recent years, climate change has contributed to the retreating of glaciers.
  • Drumlins, erratics, moraines, outwash plain, esker, kettle and kame are all types of glacial depositional landforms.
  • Moraines are a fragment of rock transported by the glacier and deposited when it has melted. Moraines are commonly found where there is a retreating glacier. There are many types of moraines, such as terminal, lateral, medial and ground moraine.
  • Examples of glacial depositional landforms are Horicon marshes with moraine and drumlins in Wisconsin, USA and Big Rock which is an erratic in Alberta, Canada.

References

  1. Fig. 2 - Erratic boulder in Wales (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Large_glacial_erratic_(boulder),_covered_in_lichen,_on_the_slopes_of_Moel-y-Ci.jpg) by Seraaron (https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=User:SeraaronArt&action=edit&redlink=1) Licensed by CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)
  2. Fig. 3 - Medial moraine in Nuusuaq Peninsula, Greenland (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nuussuaq-peninsula-moraines.jpg) by Algkalv (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Algkalv) Licensed by CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)
  3. Fig. 4 - Outwash plain at Skeiðarársandur, Iceland (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Skei%C3%B0ar%C3%A1rsandur,_Iceland.jpg) by Debivort (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Debivort) Licensed by CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en)
  4. Fig. 5 - Esker at Fulufjället in Western Sweden (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fulufjalletesker.jpg) by Hanna Lokrantz (no profile) Licensed by Cc BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en)
  5. Fig. 10 - Diagram of glacial depositional landforms (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Receding_glacier-en.svg) by Hans Hillewaert (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Z440Xeon) Licensed by CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)
  6. Fig. 11 - Drumlins around Horicon Marsh (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Drumlins_around_Horicon_Marsh_in_Wisconsin.jpg) by Doc Searls (https://www.flickr.com/people/52614599@N00) Licensed by CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)
  7. Fig. 12 - Big Rock in the Canadian Prairies (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bigrock.jpg) by Coaxial (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Coaxial) Licensed by CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Frequently Asked Questions about Glacial Depositional Landforms

The three major glacial depositional landforms are moraines, drumlins and erratics.

Some glacial deposition examples are terminal moraine, lateral moraine, medial moraine and ground moraine.

The types of glacial deposition are drumlins, erratics, moraines, outwash plain, esker, kettle and kame.

The most common depositional landform created by glaciers is a moraine.

Glacial deposits are found where the glacier retreats.

Final Glacial Depositional Landforms Quiz

Question

Which statements are FALSE?

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Answer

Glacial depositional landforms are created from the glacier retreating, so they are often found in higher altitudes in high valleys where the temperature is colder.

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Question

How does material such as sand, rocks and gravel become part of the glacier?

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Answer

Plucking

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Question

TRUE or FALSE: Glacial depositional landforms are often found in higher altitudes in higher valleys where the temperature is colder. 

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Answer

False

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Question

Which statements are TRUE?

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Answer

Glacial depositional landforms are created when the glacier retreats and leave behind crushed rock and sediments (also known as glacial driftthat they are carrying. 

Show question

Question

_____ are elongated hills made from glacial deposits and are compared to shapes such as an inverted spoon or a partially buried egg.

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Answer

Drumlins

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Question

What kind of glacial depositional landform is the Big Rock on the Canadian Prairies?

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Answer

Erratic

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Question

A _____ moraine is deposited at the junction of two glaciers.

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Answer

medial

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Question

TRUE or FALSE: Lateral moraine is found on the side of glaciers.

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Answer

True

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Question

In which country do you find a lot of outwash plains?

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Answer

Iceland

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Question

How are eskers formed?

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Answer

The meltwater travels through tunnels underneath or through the meltwater channels on top of glacier deposit sediments. Gradually the channel or tunnel becomes filled with sediments, and then the ice retreats leaving the ridge behind. 

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Question

What is the glacial depositional landform found in Washington that is recognised as an irregularly shaped hill or mound made of sand and gravel that has accumulated in a depression on a retreating glacier?

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Answer

Kame

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Question

What are many drumlins called?

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Answer

Drumlin swarm

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Question

Which statement is FALSE?

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Answer

Horicon Marsh in Wisconsin, US, was created during the Pleistocene era when Wisconsin was glaciated.

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Question

A _____ is an irregularly shaped hill or mound made of sand and gravel that has accumulated in a depression on a retreating glacier and was deposited at the terminus of the glacier. 

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Answer

kame

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Question

TRUE or FALSE: A moraine is uniform in shape and always large in size.

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Answer

False

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