Written by Patricia Tunstall
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Glaciers are among the most spectacular, awe-inspiring phenomena on earth. Sure, they are just ice, but there is much more to learn about their formation than just that, because not all patches of ice become glaciers. In fact, a glacier is an accumulation of air, water, and sediment that gets mixed with the ice in a large enough quantity to force the ice to flow downhill because of the force of gravity and the glacier's own weight and volume. These ice packs don't move fast, but there are "slow" (thousands of feet a year) and "slower" (tens of feet a year) glaciers.

Ice packs vary greatly in size, as well. A pack can be relatively small, such as a valley glacier, or it can cover an entire continent, as is the case with Antarctica. Viewing these dramatic ice formations is one of the main appeals of Arctic and Antarctic expeditions. Aside from the North and South Poles, there are other areas, which most people don't think of as arctic, that have valley glaciers at high altitudes: Chile, New Zealand, and the northwestern United States all have glaciers.

Glaciers and Polar Travel

Cruise ships make frequent trips--mostly in summer--to the periphery of the Arctic Circle and to the ice-free waters of the Southern Ocean. Although these ships can navigate through most seas and oceans, they must take care not to enter passages and areas that have ice. On the other hand, icebreakers, such as the Kapitan Khlebnikov and Yamal, penetrate ice packs so well they can take you straight to the North Pole!

From the great ice sheet of Greenland to the towering glacial mountains of Patagonia, tall ships and icebreakers give passengers a once-in-a-lifetime journey through majestic arctic vistas. Passengers will be given the extraordinary experience of looking at true glacial ice, whose blue cast signifies that most of the air bubbles have been compressed out of the ice. It takes about 1,000 years for snow to turn to glacial ice at the South Pole.

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