Living Reference Work Entry

Encyclopedia of Planetary Landforms

pp 1-8

Date: Latest Version


  • Jarmo KorteniemiAffiliated withEarth and Space Physics, Department of Physics, University of Oulu Email author 
  • , Balázs NagyAffiliated withDepartment of Physical Geography, Eötvös Loránd University


Accumulated ice mass that slowly creeps on the surface.


On Earth a glacier is “a perennial mass of ice, and possibly firn and snow, originating on the land surface by the recrystallization of snow or other forms of solid precipitation and showing evidence of past or present flow” (Cogley et al. 2011).

Processes and Control

A glacier erodes the underlying surface by abrasion, scouring, plucking, ice thrusting, and spalling. Erosion efficiency is dependent on conditions at the glacier base, including ice velocity and pressure, thermal conditions, amount of water, and underlying surface characteristics. Eroded materials are mostly incorporated in the glacier and deposited later as till, glacial erratics or dropstones, or outwash sediments.


For a detailed classification system, refer to Rau et al. (2005).

Subtypes Based on Relief and Extent

  1. (1)
    Large plateau-like glaciers:
    1. (1.1)

      Ice sheet (also called continental glacier): ice covering that obscures the underlying surfa ...

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