The Science of Glaciers
Objectives: Students will:
1. Identify the contents of a glacier like those
found in Patagonia.
2. Construct a mini glacier model in class.
3. Compare and contrast the classroom model with
Glaciers are very large moving masses of ice. The
contents of a glacier include water and all sizes of
sediment (boulders, cobbles pebbles, sand, silt and
clay). They move very slowly. There are several types
of glaciers such as the Outlet valley glacier, a
Cirque glacier, and Alpine valley glacier and a
Glaciers form in mountains and move down mountain
valleys until they melt. The ice cracks during this
movement down the valley . These cracks are called
crevasses. Glaciers that are found in valleys and
flow down old or current river valleys and move via
gravity are called Outlet valley glaciers. Much
smaller glaciers that form in high mountains and then
flow down to the valley are called Cirque glaciers.
Alpine glaciers are where several Cirque glaciers
meet. Piedmond glaciers are very wide and form were
valley glaciers join when they emerge from mountains.
(Source: Farndon, John, Dictionary of the Earth, Dorling
Kindersley, London, New York, 1994)
-Clear Flexible Containers such as plastic shoeboxes,
one for each group of four students
-One half quart of gravel and one half quart of dirt
for each group of four students
-A few drops of blue food coloring to add to the
dirt, gravel, and water mixture
-Sufficient water to fill the plastic shoebox one
inch from the top after gravel and dirt have been
added (This allows for expansion after freezing)
-Student science journals
-Heated cookie tin so that glaciers can melt
-Screwdriver or other chipping tool
-Safety glasses for each student
-Drawing paper and stick on labels
Have students work in cooperative groups of 3-4 students.
1. Place gravel and dirt in plastic shoe box and
add water and food coloring one inch from top of the
container. Mix the contents of the container. You may
want to try layers so that the gravel
is on the bottom and dirt on the top.
2. Freeze contents of plastic shoebox one or two days
to be sure glacier material is frozen.
3. Observe and record observations of the glacier
material in science journals.
4. Place frozen glacier on hot cookie tin and observe
5. Use chipping tool with safety glasses to model the
cracking of glaciers (calving) in The
Living Edens "Patagonia" program. Reflect on this activity in student
6. Have students hold the frozen glacier material and
reflect on unusual density of the glacier and record
in student science journals.
7. Have students draw the glacier they created and
label the specific parts of a glacier. Use terms as
crevasses, end moraine, zone of ablation and zone of
Students will describe the contents of the glacier
material. Students will read their student science
journal entries in class. Be sure they reflect on the
density of the glacier. Students will display the
sketch of their glacier .
Students will name glaciers and write a story about
how the glacier was named. Students will then read
the stories to the class. Establish a rubric for
evaluation including the name and the relationship of
the name to the story.
High School Extension:
Research glaciers on the world wide web and assign
specific glaciers to students on which to collect
data. Compare and contrast different glaciers found
in Argentina or if data is unavailable, use glaciers
NOVA: Life Cycle of a Glacier
All About Glaciers: National Snow and Ice Data Center