Glacial Erosion Landforms
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Glacial Erosion Landforms

During your studies of GCSE physical geography, you will learn about how different forces of nature shape the Earth's surface. One of the significant forces that has affected the British landscape is ice. You need to know how glacial erosion landforms have been created and to be able to give some examples of each.

During the last ice age, there were times that almost the whole of Britain was covered in glaciers and ice sheets. These advanced and retreated several times during the 120,000 years or so that the ice age lasted. With each advance, the ice eroded the landscape a little more, leaving traces that we can see today. In the lowland areas, this is not as evident as in the uplands where you can see many glacial erosion landforms.

The most obvious feature of glacial erosion is the classic U-shaped valley.

A glacier forms high in the hills or mountains and the ice slowly moves downhill under the influence of gravity. It will follow the line of least resistance, which is usually an existing V-shaped river valley. As it progresses, the interlocking spurs are eroded to form truncated spurs and the valley is straightened and deepened, changing the valley profile from being V-shaped to U-shaped. Where two glaciers meet and join, the combined weight and erosional power causes the valley to be deepened and widened even more. If one glacier is smaller, then you can be left with a hanging valley. This is a small U-shaped valley that can be seen joining the main valley high up in the side.

Where the bedrock is a little softer, the glacier can deepen the base of the valley a little more. This leaves a depression in the valley floor that can fill with water when the glacier has melted, leaving behind a ribbon lake. This can also happen where the glacier encounters harder rock lower down the valley, it erodes the valley floor less, leaving a slight rise. If this extends the whole width of the valley, it can dam a lake behind it. When a glacier melts, a huge amount of rock and water is released. This rushes out from underneath the glacier, carving a deep, narrow ravine.

A glacier starts where there is more winter snowfall than summer melting. Layers of snow build up in a depression on a hill or mountainside and gradually turn to ice. As this ice moves, it gouges out a more or less circular structure that is called a corrie, cwm or cirque. All three words describe the same type of feature. They are often overdeepened by the action of the ice and leave behind a small lake. Above the surface of the ice, freeze-thaw weathering creates pyramidal peaks and arêtes and breaks off the pieces of rock that give glaciers their erosional power.

Which of the following is not a glacial erosion landform?
Hanging valley
U-shaped valley
Drumlins are depositional features created by glaciers
What is the letter that describes the profile of a valley that has been cut by a glacier?
A glaciated valley has a very different profile to a valley cut by a river
Which of the following features is created by the overdeepening of a glacial valley by the glacier that made it?
Ribbon lake
String lake
Oxbow lake
Glacier lake
These are long narrow lakes found in U-shaped valleys
What gives a glacier its erosional power?
Loose blocks of ice
Pieces of rock embedded within the ice
Lateral moraines
Wind and rain moving the ice from side to side
The weight of the glacier means that any pieces of rock that are embedded in the ice can scratch and scrape the soil and bedrock, causing the erosion
The place where a glacier forms is ...
all of the above
They all describe the same feature
Which of the following features is caused by freeze-thaw weathering?
A valley
A pyramidal peak
A ribbon lake
All of the above
Frost shattering of rocks at the summit of a mountain poking up from an ice sheet, combined with the presence of several glaciers around it, creates a pyramidal peak
What causes a glacier to move?
Molten ice
Molten lava
Storms pushing down on the ice
Glaciers move naturally downhill owing to the Earth's gravity
How is a hanging valley formed?
Plate tectonics pushes it upwards
Water rushing out from a glacier as it is melting in the summer
Freeze-thaw weathering occurs along a fault line that joins an established glaciated valley
A small glacier flows into a larger one
There needs to be a significant difference in size between the two glaciers
Crib Goch is an arête on Snowdon (a mountain in Wales). It lies between two U-shaped valleys. Which of the following is the most likely way it was formed?
Wind erosion
Volcanic activity
Freeze-thaw weathering
An earthquake that happened just after Snowdon was formed
Arêtes are usually narrow areas of rock between glaciated valleys
What is a truncated spur?
A feature of a valley created by a river bursting its banks due to a glacier melting rapidly
A feature of a ribbon lake
An interlocking spur that has been cut by a glacier
Another name for an interlocking spur
Interlocking spurs are features of a young river valley. As a glacier moves down the valley, the tips of the interlocking spurs are truncated (cut off and made shorter) by the glacier
You can find more about this topic by visiting BBC Bitesize - Glacial landscapes in the UK

Author:  Kev Woodward

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