Endpoint of Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau, United States.
Glaciers: "Rivers" of Frozen Water
Even though you've maybe never seen a glacier, they are a big item when we talk about the world's water supply. Almost 10 percent of the world's land mass is currently covered with glaciers, mostly in places like Greenland and Antarctica. Glaciers are important features in the hydrologic cycle and affect the volume, variability, and water quality of runoff in areas where they occur.
In a way, glaciers are just frozen rivers of ice flowing downhill. Glaciers begin life as snowflakes. When the snowfall in an area far exceeds the melting that occurs during summer, glaciers start to form. The weight of the accumulated snow compresses the fallen snow into ice. These "rivers" of ice are tremendously heavy, and if they are on land that has a downhill slope the whole ice patch starts to slowly grind its way downhill. These glaciers can vary greatly in size, from a football-field sized patch to a river a hundred miles (161 kilometers) long.
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