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glacier

Geological Impact

Glaciers alter topography, and their work includes erosion, transportation, and deposition. Mountain glaciers carve out amphitheaterlike vertical-walled valley heads, or cirques, at their sources. They transform V-shaped valleys into U-shaped valleys by grinding away the projecting bases of slopes and cliffs and leveling the floors of the valleys; in this process tributary valleys are frequently left "hanging," with their outlets high above the new valley floor. When the tributary valleys contain streams, waterfalls and cascades are formed, such as Bridal Veil Falls of Yosemite National Park. Elevations over which glaciers pass usually are left with gently sloping sides in the direction from which the glacier approached (stoss sides) and rougher lee sides. Humps and bosses of rock so shaped are known as roches moutonnées.

The debris from glacial erosion is carried upon, within, and underneath the ice. The debris frozen into the underside of the glacier acts as a further erosive agent, polishing the underlying rock and leaving scratches, or striae, running in the direction of the movement of the glacier. Glacial deposits are often known as till or drift. The melting of the ice in summer forms glacial streams flowing under the ice, while the retreat of a large glacier sometimes leaves a temporary glacial lake, such as the ice age Lake Agassiz. Fjords generally owe their origin to glaciers.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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