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Glacial movement

A glacier might look like a solid block of ice, but it is actually moving very slowly. The glacier moves because pressure from the weight of the overlying ice causes it to deform and flow. Meltwater at the bottom of the glacier helps it to glide over the landscape.

The edges and upper layer of the glacier is not under as much pressure. These sections are more rigid and prone to cracking. The cracks are called crevasses. Lots of crevasses form when the ice flows over large bumps or around a bend in a valley.

A wide crevasse in the Franz Josef Glacier, Westland Tai Poutini National Park, South Island, New Zealand. © Amanda Matson A crevasse in the glacier above Neko Harbour, Andvord Bay, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica. © David Burt

Glaciers move very slowly. Most of the time they only advance a few centimetres to a few meters each day. Occasionally a glacier speeds up. This is called surging. A surging glacier can advance tens or even hundreds of metres a day.


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