How Does Water Get In and Out of Glaciers and Snowfields?

Who Needs Glaciers and Snowfields?
Make a Mini-Glacier!

The purpose of this activity is to make a model of a glacier and see how it shapes the land!

Make it happen
1. Place gravel and dirt in the plastic cup and add enough water to fill the bottom half of the cup. Add a few drops of blue food coloring and mix everything together.
2. Put the cup in the freezer for one day to be sure your mini-glacier is completely frozen. (You might want to label it so that nobody thinks it is a tasty treat!)
3. Before you take your mini-glacier out of the freezer, make a landscape to put it on. Spray a baking sheet with a little bit of cooking spray or brush with oil and then sprinkle the flour onto it until you have a thick layer of flour on the sheet. The flour represents the soil and rocks on top of solid bedrock.
4. Get your glacier out of the freezer. Take it out of the plastic cup. Notice how it is full of the dirt and gravel. Glaciers pick up materials like that as they move across the land. Place your glacier at one end of the baking sheet landscape.
5. Push your glacier across the flour landscape and notice how it changes the shape of the land

What’s happening?
What happened as the glacier moved down the cookie sheet?
Did the flour stay together?

Glaciers are always on the move. Real glaciers flow as the weight of new snow and ice on the upslope side pushes the whole glacier downward. It moves down because of the pull of gravity. Your mini-glacier is moving because you push it; it is not flowing like the ice in a real glacier.

As your glacier moves, it pushes the layer of flour just as real glaciers push dirt and rocks as they move, changing the landscape. You may have found that your glacier plowed flour along in front of it. When you remove your glacier from the cookie sheet, there is a hill of flour that was pushed by the glacier. When real glaciers leave a hill like this, it is called an end moraine or terminal moraine. Also, your mini-glacier may have left little ridges of flour on the sides of its path as it moved down the slope. When real glaciers leave piles of sand and gravel at the sides of their path, each is called a lateral moraine. Did your glacier make streaks in the flour that it moved over? These are like striations, scratches that real glaciers make in the bedrock that they scrape.

(Modified from PBS Teacher’s Resources Glacier Maker activity