What is a glacier?

First of all, glaciers are very very cool! They are terrestrial memory vaults, storing the earth's history in the ice. Glaciers form up at high elevations when snow falls and doesn’t melt, this area of the glacier is called the accumulation area. Eventually the snow compacts enough to become ice. When the weight of the ice becomes adequately heavy, the glacier will flow down from its elevated peak. The bottom of the glacier is what is called the ablation area, where the snow and ice melts and evaporates. In between the accumulation area and the ablation area is where the equilibrium of the glacier exists, where snowfall and snow melt equal each other and maintain the mass of the glacier. As the snow becomes ice and gravity pulls the mass downward, the glacier begins to flow. According to a geologic timeline, this is a relatively quick process (glaciers move at an average rate of 25 cm per day).

Established is the fact that glaciers are made of compacted ice. However, within that ice can be; sediment, rocks and debris. As glaciers flow, they can and do drag larger rocks and boulders along with them. When glaciers melt and retreat, the sediment and rocks held within or beneath the glacier are then deposited in their new resting ground, having been transported there by the glacier.

Rachael Thomas

Rachael is an Urban Planning and Sustainability student at Concordia and a concerned, sometimes anxious and curious global citizen with regards to climate change. Also a former visitor of the Athabasca glacier, the experience of leaving the walking tour left her both amazed and concerned with a sense of dread for the future of the glacier and the ecosystems it interacts with. Together with the generous funding of ECO Canada, the mentorship of Megan Lohmann and the power of a Concordia University library card, this series will explore what a glacier is, the role of the Athabasca glacier as a water source, how the glacier is impacted by climate change and what concerned climate citizens like you can do to mitigate the damage of climate change in our everyday lives.

Experience the Columbia Icefield on Foot!

Join us on a guided glacier hike on the Athabasca Glacier! Trips depart daily from late May to early October.

Our Tours
Our Tours