Glacial Deposition Landscapes

Your GCSE geography syllabus requires that you know about the distinctive landforms that result from the action of ice on the land. This quiz is concerned with helping you to revise the key depositional features left behind as a glacier or an ice sheet melts.

The Earth has been subjected to several ice ages, the most recent taking place in the quaternary period during the pleistocene epoch. It began about 120,000 years ago and ended around 10,000 years ago. The fact that it lasted 110,000 years does not mean that it was continuous, nor does it mean that the whole Earth was ice-covered. The glaciers and ice sheets advance and retreat periodically during an ice age. When they have retreated, it is called an interglacial, in fact, it is not known if the quaternary ice age has actually ended, we may just be in an interglacial. But don't worry, it takes centuries or even thousands of years for the ice sheets and glaciers to develop or melt.

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As ice sheets and glaciers melt, they leave behind (deposit) the material that they are carrying. Some of this is being carried within the ice and some is on the top surface. The unsorted rock debris that lies on top of the glacier is called moraine. Lateral moraines are at the edges and, where two glaciers meet, the lateral moraines are then combined at the centre of the new glacier to form a medial moraine. When the glaciers melt, both types of moraine are left in the bottom of the valley cut by the glacier as steep-sided and unsorted piles of rock that run the length of the valley.

The front of the glacier is called the snout and where it melts, it leaves a moraine behind. This is made from the rock that has been carried along on the surface of the ice as well as rock within the ice and rock that has been pushed forwards by the movement of the glacier. A terminal moraine marks the furthest point to which the ice extended. Gradually, soil forms and plants and animals colonise this and all of the other moraines.

The ice of the glacier or ice sheet contains not only rocks, but also finely ground up rock powder (termed rock flour) which is mixed in with the ice. When the ice melts, this is deposited as a material known as glacial till. This is a stony soil, usually very clay-like that forms a fairly flat but slightly undulating landscape surface. In some places, hillocks that are about one to two kilometres in length, between three hundred and six hundred metres wide and no more than fifty metres high have been left by the retreating ice. These are called drumlins.

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  1. What is the name given to a moraine that is found in the area between the terminal moraine and the current snout of the glacier?
    Glaciers recede and advance throughout their existence. This type of moraine is left when a glacier has been longer than it is currently but shorter than it was during the ice age
  2. What happens when an ice sheet or glacier melts?
    Freeze-thaw and other weathering of mountain peaks and ridges leads to rocks being broken off. These roll downhill and end up on the glacier. When the glacier melts, these are left behind as the glacial deposits
  3. Which of the following statements is true?
    Because of the way the glacier is formed and how it moves, the debris it carries is found throughout the ice
  4. The material deposited by a glacier or ice sheet is ...
    A key characteristic of glacial deposits is that they are unsorted. Deposits left by water are usually sorted and often smoothed
  5. A line of unsorted rock debris with steep sides that runs along the centre of the whole length of a U-shaped valley is most likely to have come from  ...
    The clues are 'U-shaped valley' which tell you these are likely to have been deposited by a glacier and 'centre of the whole length' which is a characteristic of the deposition of a medial moraine
  6. A geographer studying a glacial valley finds a group of long, narrow hillocks that are no more than 50 metres high. These are:
    Drumlins usually occur in groups called swarms and it is not known exactly how they form
  7. What is the correct name of the moraine that is deposited at the furthest point to which the ice extended?
    Terminal is a general purpose word that can be used to describe the end of something
  8. What is an erratic?
    They can be used to find out at least part of the journey of the glacier that deposited them
  9. When was the last ice age?
    It lasted for about one hundred and ten thousand years
  10. What is the area called that is downslope from the terminal moraine?
    The outwash is created by meltwater flowing out from the glacier as it is melting. The fast-flowing water moves the materials deposited by the glacier further down the valley, spreading them over a larger area

Author: Kev Woodward

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