The Power of Ice

The power of ice can be readily seen all over Scotland with the landscape reflecting various features of past glacial activity.  Glaciers play an important role in the global climate cycle, especially in the current period of warming.

In conjunction with Prof. Doug Benn of the University of St Andrews and NERC, GeoBus has developed the following educational resources which aim to provide a practical, hands on and visually engaging set of resources.  It provides a selection of videos, PowerPoints and activities for a range of topics from the basics of glaciology to the impact glaciers have on our planet.  All of the materials were written and created by Robert Jones and Bethany Hudd, graduates from the University of St Andrews and specialists in Physical Geography and Glaciology.

The materials can be easily adapted for any age group and can be run as individual lessons or combined to create a small project over a few weeks. We hope you find our resources helpful and informative! If you enjoy using these activities or have any comments/suggestions, we’d love to hear from you either via social media or email.

Glacier Mass Balance

What makes a glacier melt?  Why are some melting faster than others?  This lesson plan introduces the concept of Mass Balance and the factors which influence the melt rate of a glacier including differential melting and what this means in a warming world.

This activity allows students to see first hand how different conditions can cause ice to melt at differing rates.

The concept of Mass Balance is also explained in the Glaciology In A Minute video “What is Glacier Mass Balance?” which has visual explanations of accumulation and ablation, and how mass balance impacts glacier size.

Glacier Mass Balance

Glacier Dynamics

Glaciers, like water, flow downhill due to gravity.  This flow can take place at different rates depending on the balance between driving (gravity) and resisting (friction at the bed and sides of the glacier) forces.

This resource looks into how a glacier moves and what impacts the speed it flows over a landscape. 

Glacier Dynamics

Glacial Erosion and Deposition

Glaciers are powerful shapers of the landscape and their influence can be seen throughout Scotland. The lesson plan below is designed to explain both the different erosional mechanisms and the subsequent depositional landforms created, and includes a worksheet for pupils to fill out in class, labelling each landform.

The Glaciology In A Minute videos “How Does a Glacier Erode the Landscape?” and “How Does a Glacier Shape the Landscape” are designed to accompany this activity.

Glacial Erosion and Deposition

Glacial Calving

Calving (the mechanical loss of ice from glaciers and ice shelves through the break-off of ice bergs) is an important and effective ablation mechanism. Since the 19th century, there has been a rapid increase in the rate of glacial recession, likely due to the global warming associated with increased concentrations of CO₂.

The attached slides explain calving processes such as warm water undercutting and surface melting and the Glaciology In A Minute Video “What Is Glacial Calving?” shows how this impacts the mass balance of glaciers worldwide.

Glacial Calving

Glacier Surging

Glaciers are slow! Normally, glaciers move just a few centimeters in a day.  Surging can increase the speed of a glacier up to ten (or more) times the normal speed!

Surging is a great unknown within Glaciology – scientists are unsure exactly what causes it and research is currently underway to try and determine why it happens. Surging is a visually impressive side of glaciology, but it also highlights the importance of thinking about why each glacier behaves the way it does.

Glacier Surging

Marine Ice Sheet Instability (MISI) and Sea Level Rise

The Marine Ice Sheet Instability PowerPoint breaks down what the Instability is, how it occurs and why it matters on a global scale. This is a recently discovered, up and coming area of research within glaciology, and one with many unknowns and yet a potentially severe occurrence that could impact the global population.

This lesson can be combined with an experiment exploring the difference between the West and East Antarctic Ice Sheet, found here.

The Glaciology In A Minute videos “What is Marine Ice Sheet Instability” and “How Do Glaciers Impact Sea Level Rise?” compliment the lesson plan.

“Please note that this particular lesson plan would be suitable for pupils aged 16 – 18”

Marine Ice Sheet Instability and Sea Level Rise

Useful Links and Other Resources

Formation of a Glacier

Glacier Mass Balance

Glacial Erosion

  • BBC Bitesize
  • Benn and Evans, 2010. Textbook – “Glaciers and Glacization”

Glacial Transport and Deposition

Glaciers and Climate Change

Glaciology In a Minute.

This series of videos looks at how glaciers form, ways in which they move and the landscapes left behind by these powerful forces. It then concentrates on our current warming climate and the effect this will have on them.