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A Journey to a New Land

Mammoth and Scimitar Cat
Multimedia Library

Dr. John Clague

Department of Earth Sciences, Simon Fraser University

Glacier Formation

Glaciers all form from snow – snow that does not melt over the course of the summer. It will eventually compact and transform into ice. It is a very interesting transformation that goes on, from these hexagonal delicate little crystals into compact ice like in ice cubes. Water is a wonderful substance. It occurs in three states: as a gas in the atmosphere, as water (which is really what makes Earth unique), and as ice (as a solid). There are just not many natural materials that, within the normal range that humans can tolerate, can occur in those three different states. Water in its frozen state can have two forms. It can occur as snow, which is a freshly deposited material that rains out from the atmosphere, or it can be transformed into ice. When it is transformed into ice, it can actually flow. That’s another peculiar property of frozen ice. If you have enough thickness of ice, it no longer behaves as a brittle material, it won’t fracture like an ice cube – it actually slowly flows. Glaciers are streams of frozen ice that flow under their own weight.