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Glacial Processes

Glacial Processes

Have you ever had a pipe burst from freezing in your home? This process of water freezing and expanding to create some tension is not a new or human-made process. It has been happening to rocks in our landscape since the ice age as glacial processes. Remnants of these glacial processes can be seen in some of the glaciated areas in the UK. If you've walked by the Lake District or Snowdonia, you may see rocks broken down from water freezing in the cracks of rocks, expanding and deepening the crack. So, how do we define glacial processes? Are there different examples of glacial processes? Let's look into the different glacial processes that shaped the UK during the ice age, such as erosion, deposition, weathering, and transportation and how they continue to do so.

Glacial processes definition

Glacial processes are the way that glaciers shape the land through processes of weathering, erosion, transportation, and deposition. Let's define these.

Weathering is the breakdown of rock caused by natural processes such as weather, animals, plants, and chemical processes.

Erosion is the wearing away of rock, soil, and other solid material.

Transportation is the movement and transportation of material from one place to another.

Deposition is carrying ice and sediments far through the glacier melting.

Even though glaciers are not often associated with the UK, the UK landscape was shaped by glacial processes in the last ice age and continues to be shaped by the current weather and climate.

Processes of glacial erosion

There are two main glacial erosion processes, namely abrasion, and the other plucking. This usually happens when the glacier is moving and picking up material. Abrasion is when the glacier moves downhill, and the frozen rocks into the bottom and the sides of the glacier scrape the rock beneath. The glacier becomes like sandpaper as it scratches the bedrock and leaves marks called striations behind. Plucking is when the glacier moves along the valley and melts temporarily around the bigger boulders it encounters. It then refreezes around them, so when it moves, the boulders are ripped out of the ground and become part of the glacier.

Corries are created as a result of upland glacial erosion. It is an armchair-shaped hollowed area on the side of the mountain that is formed from snow accumulating and becoming compressed ice which then starts to flow from the area and pluck the rocks. As the glacier continues to move, abrasion causes the hollow to become deeper, wider, and steeper. When the glacier gets heavier and moves out of the hollow with a circular movement called the rotational slip.

There are two erosional features produced by corries: arête, a narrow ridge of land between two corries eroding back to back, and pyramidal peak, which is when three or more corries erode back towards one another at the top of a mountain and leave a pointed peak.

Another feature of erosion is the glacial trough. They are created through glaciers flowing through an old river valley which erodes interlocking spurs to create truncated spurs.

Interlocking spurs are fingers of land jutting out alternately from opposite sides, causing the river to meander in the valley.

Glacial processes Interlocking spurs StudySmarter

Fig. 2 - Interlocking spurs at Ashes Hollow, England

Truncated spurs are steep sides of a glacial trough created from the erosion of a glacier.

Glacial processes Truncated spurs StudySmarterFig. 3 - Truncated spurs in the glacial trough in Myklebustdaren Valley, Norway

The glacier erodes the V-shaped valley to steepen the sides and flatten the bases to become a U-shaped valley.

Read more about features of landscapes shaped by glaciers in Glacial Landforms.

Processes of glacial deposition

The process of glacial deposition is when the glacier starts to melt as it travels lower down the mountain, reaches warmer temperatures, and deposits the material it carries. When the glacier starts to melt, the water leaving the glacier deposits sand and gravel, known as glacial outwash. The material is sorted into larger, heavier sand and gravel deposited in the glaciated valley. The lighter, smaller particles, such as clay, are deposited further away in the outwash plain. The mixture of transported sediments in the glacier is called glacial till or boulder clay. The piles of glacial till deposited by the glaciers can form a moraine.

A moraine is a mass of rocks and sediments the glacier has carried and deposited.

There are three types of moraine, lateral moraine, medial moraine and terminal moraine.

From the type of moraine, it is possible to see how the glacier transported the sediments. Lateral moraine is when the material is deposited along both sides of the glacier, it is made up of material scraped off by the glacier as it moves along its path. A medial moraine is the lateral moraine of two glaciers when they meet, creating a line of moraine in the middle of a new, bigger glacier. The terminal moraine is the material deposited at the end of the glacier, the snout, and is also called the end moraine.

Glacial processes Lateral moraine StudySmarterFig. 5 -Lateral moraine on the left next to the Lower Theodul Glacier in Zermatt, Switzerland

Terminal moraine can be useful for scientists to understand where the glacier flowed and how quickly it moved. If they can find specific minerals and rocks in the terminal moraine that can be found in the area, it is possible to find out the route that the glacier flowed through.


Glacial weathering process

The main type of glacial weathering is freeze-thaw weathering. It happens during the day when the temperature is higher, the snow melts, and water goes into the cracks of the rocks. Then the temperature drops, causing the water in the cracks to expand and the rock to crack. As this process is repeated, the crack becomes bigger, and pieces of rock break off. It often shapes the back wall of a corrie, making it steeper.

Processes of glacial transportation

The process of glacial transportation is when the glacier travels from upland to low land areas and carries material as it moves. When the material is within the glacier, it's called englacial material; if the material is on the surface, it's called supraglacial material; if the material is carried underneath the surface, it's called subglacial material.

Movements such as bulldozing and rotational slips are part of glacial transportation.

Bulldozing is a process when rocks and debris found in front of the glacier are pushed along by the moving ice.

Many processes are a part of glacial transportation. When freeze-thaw weathering happens at the glacier's edge, pieces of rock breaking off into bigger chunks of rock fall onto the glacier and get transported. Rocks are also transported when plucked out of the glacier and moving downhill with the ice.

Glacial processes examples

Looking at glacial upland landscapes in the UK now, we can see what kind of glacial processes had occurred to shape the land in such ways and how they are continuing to change to this day due to the current climate.

Glacial upland landscapes are landscapes on high land shaped by the ice age.

Lake District

The Lake District in the northwest of the UK has one of the highest mountains in the UK, Helvellyn. Many landscapes around the mountain were shaped by the last ice age. Large glaciers eroded the landscape to carve out arêtes, corries, and glacial troughs that can be seen today. Two arêtes, Striding Edge and Swirral Edge, ascend Helvellyn's summit. The Striding Edge is the back wall of the Red Tarn corrie on the eastern side of Helvellyn. Wastwater scree is an example of a landscape created by the weathering process of freeze-thaw weathering, and small pieces of rock are created from the process.

Scree are small stones that cover or form a slope on a mountain.

Glacial processes Wast water scree StudySmarterFig. 7 - Wastwater scree

Snowdonia

Snowdonia, located in northwest Wales, has the highest mountain in Wales, Snowdon. Snowdonia has examples of glacial erosion, deposition, and transportation from 18,000 years ago in the ice age. There are distinctive glacial features such as corries with steep back walls formed through freeze-thaw weathering and plucking, aretes with steep sides and narrow edges, and a corrie lake. Cym Idwal and Cym Clyd are great examples of corries in Snowdonia. The landscape continues to be modified by weathering. In Cym Idwal, for example, freeze-thaw weathering continues to grind the rocks into smaller pieces and can cause landslips on the steeper slopes.

Bethesda area

Bethesda is a small village north of Snowdonia, famous for the Penrhyn slate quarry. In the post-glacial environment, the area was in shallow waters, and the slate was created from metamorphosed mud made from clay minerals. This happened from the heat and the pressure when Snowdonia underwent tectonic convergence and was squashed and then uplifted. The Penrhyn slate quarry opened in the 1780s and is one of the last remaining quarries, which once produced 100,000 tonnes but now employs less than 200 people. However, it has become a tourist attraction by focusing less on the slate and installing Europe's longest and fastest zipline.

Glacial Processes - Key takeaways

  • Glacial processes are the way that glaciers shape the land through processes of weathering, erosion, transportation, and deposition.
  • Abrasion and plucking are the two main glacial processes of erosion. They create landscapes such as erosional features such as corrie, arête, pyramidal peak, and glacial trough.
  • Glaciers deposit glacial till, which then forms moraines. Glacial transportation use movements such as bulldozing and rotational slip. There are three types of moraine, lateral moraine, medial moraine, and terminal moraine. From this, we can see how the moraine was transported by the glacier.
  • The glacial process of weathering is known as freeze-thaw weathering. This is when the snow melts and water goes into the cracks of the rocks. This then freezes, and the water in the crack expands, making the crack bigger. The process is repeated, eventually breaking the rock.
  • By looking at how the glacial upland landscapes formed and how they continue to change today, we can see how the glacial processes shape the area physically and culturally.

Frequently Asked Questions about Glacial Processes

The glacial processes are weathering, erosion, transportation, and deposition.

Many glacial landforms are formed by glacial deposition. Moraines are formed by glacial deposition.

The effects of glacial deposition are moraine forming, glacial outwash, and depositing of smaller particles to the outwash plain.

An example of ice deposition is glacial till.

Glaciers cause weathering through freeze-thaw weathering. This is when the snow melts and water goes into the cracks of the rocks. This then freezes and the water in the crack expands creating the crack to become bigger. The process is repeated eventually breaking the rock.

Final Glacial Processes Quiz

Question

Select the three main types of glacial erosion.

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Answer

Plucking, abrasion, meltwater erosion

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Question

TRUE or FALSE: Abrasion is when the glacier moves downhill, and the frozen rocks into the bottom and the sides of the glacier scrape the rock beneath. 

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Answer

True

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Question

TRUE or FALSE: Plucking is a form of glacial deposition.

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Answer

False - the glacier 'plucks' rocks from the bedrock and transports them elsewhere.

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Question

How is a Cirque formed?

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Answer

Snow & ice accumulate from avalanches. Mechanical weathering takes place.

Bowl-shaped

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Question

Which statements are FALSE?

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Answer

Moraines are created as a result of upland glacial erosion. It is an armchair-shaped hollowed area on the side of the mountain that is formed from snow accumulating and becoming compressed ice which then starts to flow from the area and pluck the rocks. 

Show question

Question

Glacial processes are the way that glaciers shape the land through processes of _____, _____, _____, and _____

Show answer

Answer

Weathering, erosion, transportationdeposition

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Question

Striations happen because _____.

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Answer

of the process of abration.

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Question

Which are two erosional features produced by corries?

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Answer

arête

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Question

TRUE or FALSE: The glacial trough is when the glacier erodes the U-shaped valley to steepen sides and flatten the bases to become a V-shaped valley.

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Answer

False

Show question

Question

The piles of glacial _____ that are deposited by the glaciers can form a _____.

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Answer

till - moraine

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Question

Which process is being described below?

It happens during the day when the temperature is higher, the snow melts, and water goes into the cracks of the rocks. Then the temperature drops, causing the water in the cracks to expand and the rock to crack. As this process is repeated, the crack becomes bigger, and pieces of rock break off.

Show answer

Answer

Freeze-thaw weathering

Show question

Question

The material within the glacier is called _____, if it's on the surface it is _____ and if it's carried underneath it is _____

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Answer

englacial, supraglacial, subglacial

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Question

_____ moraine is the material that is deposited along both sides of the glacier and made up of material that is scraped off by the glacier as it moves along its path.

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Answer

Lateral

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Question

Give an example of a landscape in the UK that is created by freeze-thaw weathering.

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Answer

Wastwater Scree in the Lake District

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Question

Which glacial process occurred in the ice age and continues to shape the landscape in the UK today?

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Answer

Freeze-thaw weathering 

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Question

Which of the below does not cause weathering?

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Answer

Weather

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Question

What are the two main glacial erosion processes?

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Answer

Abrasion

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Question

Which statement is TRUE?

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Answer

Corrie is an armchair-shaped hollowed area on the side of the mountain.

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Question

Which of the below is the definition of glacial outwash?

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Answer

The water that leaves the glacier which deposits sand and gravel.

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Question

Wastwater scree in the Lake District is a result of what process?

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Answer

Freeze-thaw weathering

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