9 April 2020

Glacier Myths Busted

Have you ever heard something about a glacier and just weren't sure if it was fact or fiction? Well rest assured, we're here to set the record straight; this months blog is all about busting some common glacier myths.

First let's talk about how glaciers are formed:

Basically, a glacier forms in specific areas of the world where the temperature is cold enough for the snow to accumulate faster than it can melt. Over a period of years, as new snow falls on top of the existing layer, the underneath layers begin to compress forcing the snow into sugar-like crystals - eventually so much so that most of the air is forced out of it. This is why glacial ice appears blue.

Eventually the glacier becomes so heavy that it starts to move. When a glacier moves it's not like a solid block of ice tumbling down a slope; a glacier is a river of ice - it flows. This is because the highly compressed layers of ice on the bottom are very flexible, whereas the upper layers are much more brittle and prone to fractures, appearing as crevasses in the glacier.

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Now on to the fact or fiction part:

About 10% of the world's landmass is covered by glaciers

True - and during the last ice age glaciers covered about a third of the whole planet.

Iceworms are a made up thing (by a poet who wrote the 'Ballad of the Iceworm Cocktail'

False - they are real! Several species of the small annelid worms are found exclusively on glaciers around the world and live on snow algae.

Glacier ice is colder than regular ice

False - Glacier ice and the ice from your freezer share the same physical, thermal and electrical properties. The few small differences in characteristics are solely due to grain size differences.

But doesn't glacier ice last longer in drinks?!

Yes - a little, but only because the ice crystals are larger. Crystals melt from the outside and large crystals expose less surface area per unit volume of ice; therefore, ice with larger crystals melts more slowly. We don't recommend taking ice from a glacier to experiment on this!

Today's glaciers are leftovers from the ice age

Not quite. Yes, glaciers have existed in the mountains ever since the ice age, but glacier flow moves the snow and ice through the entire length of the glacier in 100 years or less. So, most of the glacier ice in the world is less than 100 years old. Therefore while a glacier may have existed in a specific area for thousands of years, the ice that forms that glacier is definitely not that old. 

What about the mammoths and giant bison found in ice?

The remains of prehistoric animals have indeed been found in ice, but not glacier ice. Frozen fossil animals are found in permafrost which may be many tens of thousands of years old. Because of the movement of glaciers, any remains in glacier ice would eventually be crushed by the weight of the glacier itself.

So there you have it, a few glacier facts weeded out from the fiction to help you on the way to winning your next pub quiz or trivia night! Feel free to ask us any burning glacier questions you may have - we'd love to hear them! https://www.facebook.com/FranzJosefGlacierGuides/