All About Glaciers


Glaciers elicit both awe and curiosity

Forno Glacier photographed by H.F. Reid
—Credit: Harry Fielding Reid. 1900. Forno Glacier: From the Glacier Photograph Collection, Boulder, Colorado USA: National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Slow-moving rivers of ice, glaciers have sculpted mountains and carved valleys throughout Earth's history. They continue to flow and shape the landscape in many places today. But glaciers affect much more than rocks.

Glacier melt delivers nutrients into lakes, rivers, and oceans. Those nutrients can drive blooms of phytoplankton—the base of aquatic and marine food chains. Meanwhile, gradual glacier melt sustains stream habitats for plants and animals. So, glaciers often have an indirect impact on wildlife and fisheries.

In some regions, glaciers provide life-sustaining water for people as well as wildlife. For instance, the Amu Darya, a major river in Central Asia, derives part of its water supply from glacier melt. Averaged over the year, that melt accounts for only 8 percent of annual river flow, but it accounts for 27 percent of river flow in late summer, when snow melt provides relatively little water.

Glaciers also impact sea level. The cryosphere consists of all the places on Earth where water is frozen including snow, sea ice, ice sheets, and glaciers. Of these, glaciers currently contribute the most to sea level rise.

All About Glaciers is a glacier site with something for everyone, from grade school students to professional glaciologists. It explores nearly all aspects of glaciers, the facts, the data, the science, including a gallery and much more.

Last updated: 16 March 2020