Photo Friday: Inside Glacier Caves

Caves can form within glaciers as a result of water running through or under a glacier. They are often called ice caves, but the term more accurately describes caves in bedrock that contain ice throughout the year. Water usually forms on the glacier’s surface through melting, before flowing down a moulin (vertical to nearly vertical shafts within glaciers or ice sheets) to the base of the glacier. Glacier caves can also form as a result of geothermal heat from hotsprings or volcanic vents beneath glaciers, such as the Kverkfjöll glacier cave in Vatnajökull glacier in Iceland, or where glaciers meet a body of water, with wave action.

Glacier caves can collapse or disappear because of glacier retreat. For example, the Paradise Ice Caves on Mount Rainier in Washington had 8.23 miles of passages in 1978. However, it collapsed in the 1990s, and the section of the glacier that contained the caves retreated between 2004 and 2006. Prior to collapse, caves can be used to access the interior of glaciers for research purposes, with the study of glacier caves sometimes known as glaciospeleology. Others also serve as popular tourist attractions due to their beauty.

A woman stands at the edge of one of the streams that flowed out of the Paradise Ice Caves in 1925 (Source: University of Washington Libraries / Creative Commons).

 

Kverkfjöll in Vatnajökull formed as a result of geothermal heating (Source: David Phan / Creative Commons).

 

A photo, taken in 1909, of an ice cave in Antarctica containing stalactites (Source: NOAA)

 

Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentine Patagonia has a cave at its northern end, where it meets Argentino Lake (Source: Martin St-Amant / Creative Commons).

 

Glacier caves, such as Fox Glacier Cave in British New Zealand, are often popular tourist attractions (Source: anoldent / Creative Commons).

 

Read about a time when Putin visited a glacier cave here.

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