Types of Glaciers – Explanation + Visual Guide

Believe it or not, there are 8 different types of glaciers. These include mountain glaciers, rock glaciers, valley glaciers, tidewater glaciers, piedmont glaciers, hanging glaciers, cirque glaciers, and outlet glaciers.

Most glaciers can be found throughout the tundra biome where temperatures are usually below freezing or are always cold for most of the year.

Types of Glaciers

Below is a description of each of the different glacier types as well as images and videos where possible to show you what each kind of glacier looks like in real life.

Mountain Glaciers

mountain glacier

These types of glaciers form in high mountainous terrain types. Usually, they flow out into icefields that can spread out over several peaks or a mountain range.

The largest mountain glacier ranges are found in Arctic Canada, Alaska, the Andes in South America, and the Himalaya in Asia.

Valley Glaciers

The Aletsch Glacier in Switzerland

These types of glaciers start as mountain glaciers or ice fields. Eventually, the ice spills down into a valley. They can be long and some are well below sea level. The Aletsch Glacier in Switzerland is the largest valley glacier in the Alps and it has been losing mass since the mid-19th century.

Tidewater Glaciers

When a valley glacier flows into the sea, they become tidewater glaciers. These types of glaciers are known to calve small icebergs.

Piedmont Glaciers

Malaspina Glacier in Alaska

Another type of glacier that forms as a result of valley glaciers are piedmont glaciers. These kinds of glaciers occur when a valley glacier empties into relatively flat plains, where they spread out into bulb-like lobes. 

Hanging Glaciers

Hanging Glacier at Queulat National Park, Chile

A hanging glacier forms when a valley glacier stops at or near the top of a cliff. They also form when a valley glacier system shrinks and thins and leaves behind tributary glaciers in smaller valleys high above the contracted central glacier surface. 

Cirque Glaciers

Cirque Glaciers in the Chigmits

These types of glaciers are usually wide and are found high on mountainsides. Cirque glaciers are so named because of the bowl-like structure they occupy. These bow-like hollows are called cirques.

Rock Glaciers

Rock glaciers are masses of rock, ice, snow, mud, and water that move slowly down a mountain under the influence of gravity.  These types of glaciers are often found in steep-sided valleys, where rocks and soil fall from the valley walls onto the ice.

Outlet Glaciers

When a glacier flows out of an ice sheet, ice cap or icefield, it’s called an outlet glacier. Outlet glaciers are hemmed in on the sides by exposed bedrock. They are the beginning of what usually becomes valley glaciers. If you liked reading about the different kinds of glaciers then be sure to check out the different types of caves (there’s also a glacier cave).

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