Reference Work Entry

Encyclopedia of Paleoclimatology and Ancient Environments

Part of the series Encyclopedia of Earth Sciences Series pp 155-156


  • Peter G. Knight

Cirques are glacially eroded features characteristic of mountain glaciation, and are also known as corries or cwms. They have been widely studied, and useful summaries of previous research are provided by Benn and Evans (1998) and Bennett and Glasser (1996).

Cirques are mountainside hollows, open on the downslope side but characteristically bounded on the upslope side by a steep slope or cliff (the headwall) that is arcuate in plan around the more gently sloping or over-deepened floor of the hollow. Glacial cirques are created by the erosional action of localized snow and ice patches, and during glaciation they contain “cirque glaciers” which may feed ice downstream into valley glaciers. Cirques evolve through time under continuing glacial activity by a combination of deepening of the base and headward erosion of the back wall. Early in the glaciation, nivation beneath snow accumulating in a mountainside hollow may be the chief process leading to the development of the cirque. As more s ...

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