Structures and Deformation in Glaciers and Ice Sheets

Authors Organisations
Type Review article
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2021RG000743
Number of pages135
JournalReviews of Geophysics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 03 Sept 2021
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The aims of this review are to: (a) describe and interpret structures in valley glaciers in relation to strain history; and (b) to explore how these structures inform our understanding of the kinematics of large ice masses, and a wide range of other aspects of glaciology. Structures in glaciers give insight as to how ice deforms at the macroscopic and larger scale. Structures also provide information concerning the deformation history of ice masses over centuries and millennia. From a geological perspective, glaciers can be considered to be models of rock deformation, but with rates of change that are measurable on a human time-scale. However, structural assemblages in glaciers are commonly complex, and unraveling them to determine the deformation history is challenging; it thus requires the approach of the structural geologist. A wide range of structures are present in valley glaciers: (a) primary structures include sedimentary stratification and various veins; (b) secondary structures that are the result of brittle and ductile deformation include crevasses, faults, crevasse traces, foliation, folds, and boudinage structures. Some of these structures, notably crevasses, relate well to measured strain-rates, but to explain ductile structures analysis of cumulative strain is required. Some structures occur in all glaciers irrespective of size, and they are therefore recognizable in ice streams and ice shelves. Structural approaches have wide (but as yet under-developed potential) application to other sub-disciplines of glaciology, notably glacier hydrology, debris entrainment and transfer, landform development, microbiological investigations, and in the interpretation of glacier-like features on Mars.


  • CRYOSPHERE, Glaciers, Ice sheets, Ice shelves, Glaciology, Snow, Ice, GLOBAL CHANGE, Cryospheric change, HYDROLOGY, Snow and ice, STRUCTURAL GEOLOGY, General or miscellaneous, Review Article, structural glaciology, ice deformation, ice structures, Foliation, Crevasses structurally controlled landforms