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Erosion by Glaciers

Features created by glacial erosion are may be massive, like hanging valleys and horns, or smaller, like glacial striations.

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Erosion and Deposition by Wind and Glaciers

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License: CC BY-NC 3.0



Wind picks up and transport particles of different sizes:

  • suspension – smaller particles hang in the air
  • saltation – larger particles, like sand, are blown in short hops close to the ground
  • creep – even larger particles roll on the ground

How would clay move if blown by the wind? What about a rock?

How do these transportation methods compare to those of water?

Wind can erode the ground surface, causing it to get lower and rockier; this is called deflation. The remaining rocks are called desert pavement.

Hint: to remember what a desert pavement is, remember that they usually consist of gravel-sized rocks, similar to a gravel walkway or road.

Abrasion occurs when wind-blown sand carve and polish rocks and other surfaces.

Exposed rocks in deserts may also develop a dark coating called desert varnish. Why does this phenomenon occur?

You can check your answers here.


When wind deposits sand, sand dunes, or small hills of sand, are formed.

  • How do obstructions cause sand dunes to form?
  • How do saltation and gravity affect sand dunes?
  • Why do sand dunes move in the same direction that the wind usually blows?

Loess deposits are formed when the wind drops smaller particles like silt and clay.

  • How does loess affect the soil?
  • What happens when silt and clay particles are deposited on the surface of a body of water, instead of the ground?

You can find more information on deposition by wind here.


Source: Dawn Ellner https://www.flickr.com/photos/naturesdawn/2923704279/in/photolist-ejrGtD-3AFy2-fQGggX-5smKqt-hnVwL3-cLqHS1-8LBN8v-dtthHt-anrXfP-czoiUu-hxVdaC-9MtQxa-7EdChq-8SjsBk-hM3SjP-9tAzaG-Dxwix-911uah-9xLDB6-ejrGqe
License: CC BY-NC 3.0



Two main ways that glaciers cause erosion are:

  • plucking – glaciers pick up rocks and other sediment, which freeze to the bottom of the glaciers
  • abrasion – glaciers scrape underlying rock
    • glacial striations may be left on rock

How do glacial striations form?

Erosion by valley glaciers can create a variety of land features. Try matching the feature with its description!

               Valley Glacier Features
1. U-shaped valley A. the highest cliff of a cirque
2. hanging valley B. a valley with nearly vertical walls
3. cirque C. a rounded hollow
4. headwall D. a sharp mountain peak
5. arête E. a jagged ridge
6. col F. valleys that are cut from the main valley
7. horn G. a low spot of an arête

Highlight the following to check your answers for the valley glacier features matching section: 1. B    2. F    3. C    4. A    5. E.   6. G    7. D

Where do glaciers begin?

How is a horn formed?

How is an arête formed?

To find more information on erosion by glaciers and check your answers, click here.


Mechanical weathering loosesns rocks on valley walls, and glaciers pick up this sediment. Glaciers deposit the sediment when they melt. 

To help you learn the features due to deposition by glaciers, identify the feature by its description:

1. Massive rocks that glaciers drop; usually a different type of rock than its surroundings

2. A thick layer of sediment left by a retreating glacier

3. A long, low hill of sediment

4. A winding, sandy ridge that flows under a retreating glacier

5. A mix of particles and rocks of various sizes

6. The remaining water when a glacier melts in a depression

7. Indirectly formed clay layers of alternating dark and light colors

8. A low ridge of sediment at the end of a glacier; marks the greatest distance the glacier advanced

Check your answers by highlighting the following: 1. glacial erratics 2. ground morain 3. drumlin 4. esker 5. glacial till 6. kettle lake 7. varves 8. end moraine

Helpful tips to help you remember some landform names: For glacier erratics – the word "erratic" means uneven or not in a regular pattern, and these rocks seem to be different from their surroundings, or not regular. Eskers are winding, similar to the letter "S," or the sound "es."

License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Kettle lakes [Figure3]

Why might glacier erratics be a different rock type from the surrounding bedrock? 

How is a kettle lake formed?

What landforms are created when glaciers melt?

For more help with deposition by glaciers and to go over your answers, you can check out the reading.

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