Getting to grips with glacial erosion – Expert reaction

New research from GNS science, published today in Science, shows that faster moving glaciers carve out more of the landscape then their slower-moving peers.

Franz Josef Glacier. Credit: TobiasK at en.wikipedia


Researchers spent five months using satellites to track the speed of Franz Josef glacier whilst monitoring erosion by analysing sediments collected at the face of the glacier. From the gathered data they were able to develop a formula connecting glacier speed with the level of erosion.

“The erosive power of glaciers varies considerably, with some of the most rapid glacial erosion happening in mid-latitude climates,” lead author Dr Simon Cox said in a media release.

“This research confirms that fast glaciers are more effective at gouging landscapes than slow-moving ones.”

The study also helps to understand how glaciers will impact the landscape in a warmer future:

“The glaciers will accelerate and the rate of glacial erosion will increase substantially,” Dr Cox told ABC News.

The SMC collected the following expert commentary.

Assoc Prof Andrew Mackintosh, Deputy Director, Antarctic Research Centre, Victoria University Wellington, comments:

“This research tells us that New Zealand glaciers, especially those few that flow very fast (Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier) are also capable of eroding the underlying landscape at a fast rate.

“The broader implications of this study are related to how landscapes evolve through time. Glacial erosion is difficult to study because we do not have access to the base of glaciers and the processes there cannot be observed directly. However, we know that some glaciers cause very large amounts of erosion while others do not. This study helps to explain why glacier erosion rates vary in space and time.”