permafrost periglacial spring russia.jpg
the painted desert arid.jpg

Glacial Environments

Explain the advance and retreat of glaciers and the main features resulting from the processes of erosion and deposition by glaciers.


Glacial Environments

Explain the advance and retreat of glaciers and the main features resulting from the processes of erosion and deposition by glaciers.

Europe's largest glacier, The Aletsch, in winter / Eastern Bernese Alps, Valais, Switzerland.


Inside a Glacier / BBC

glacial environment (n)

An area covered with snow and ice on a permanent/long-term basis, where glacial processes are operating. Can be on different scales including ice sheet, ice caps, glaciers.

landform (n)

a natural feature of the earth's surface


ice sheets, ice caps and glaciers

  1. How are ice sheets, ice caps and glaciers different?
  2. Research these terms and add information to your notes.




  1. Read the text above and annotate the pdf with information about glacial systems



Why does climate change?

Glaciers advance when inputs exceed outputs, when there is more accumulation of snow in the winter than melting of snow in the summer.

But what are the historic reasons for changing climates? What causes warmer and colder years? Human-induced climate change plays an important role in the current warming period, but natural, astronomical factors are also responsible for historic changes in climate.

Read the excerpt from "Africa: A Biography of the Continent" by John Reader and make notes on the three astronomical causes of climate change.



processes and landforms of glacial environments


GLACIAL erosion

 Plucking and Abrasion

Plucking and Abrasion

  1. Name, describe and illustrate two processes of glacial erosion

landforms of erosion



  1. Name, describe and illustrate two forms of glacial erosion above
  2. Download book "Glacial Landforms and the Ice Age"
  3. Read pp 420 + 424
  4. Make detailed notes on glacial processes and landforms
  5. Name, describe and explain each landform of erosion

landforms of deposition


landforms presentation

  1. In groups, create a presentation describing and explaining glacial landforms of erosion and deposition.
permafrost periglacial spring russia.jpg

Periglacial Environments

Explain permafrost, patterned ground, solifluction, thermokarst, pingos.

Periglacial Environments

Explain permafrost, patterned ground, solifluction, thermokarst, pingos.


explain (v)

  1. give a detailed account including reasons or causes.


hummock (n)

  1. A hummock is a small hill or mound above ground. They are typically less than 15 meters in height and tend to appear in groups or fields. 

periglacial (adj)

  1. relating to or denoting an area adjacent to a glacier or ice sheet or otherwise subject to repeated freezing and thawing.

regolith (n)

  1. Regolith is a layer of loose, heterogeneous superficial material covering solid rock. It includes dust, soil, broken rock, and other related materials and is present on Earth, the Moon, Mars, some asteroids, and other terrestrial planets and moons.


Permafrost is ground that remains continuously at or below 0 degrees Celsius for at least two consecutive years.

Global distribution of permafrost



Patterned ground is the distinct, and often symmetrical geometric shapes formed by ground material in periglacial regions. 


Partially melted and collapsed lithalsas (heaved mounds found in permafrost) have left circle-like structures on the Svalbard Archipelago (Wikipedia)

  1. Diurnal temperature ranges go above and below zero degrees,
  2. The repeated freezing and thawing of groundwater forces larger stones toward the surface as smaller soils flow and settle underneath larger stones.
  3. Areas that have many larger stones contain much less water than areas of finer grained sediments.
  4. Areas of finer sediments are saturated with water
  5. Areas of finer sediments expand and contract as freezing and thawing occur, more than areas with large stones
  6. This leads to lateral forces which ultimately pile larger stones into clusters and stripes.
  7. Through time, repeated freeze-thaw cycles smooth out irregularities and odd-shaped piles to form the common polygons, circular, and stripes of patterned ground.


Solifluction literally means flowing soil. It is the slow, downslope movement of water-saturated sediment due to repeated freezing and thawing of the ground, affected by gravity.  

Solifluction lobes in the Swiss National Park, Graübunden.

How is it made?

  1. In winter, the soil and water in the soil freezes.
  2. In spring, the upper layer of the soil melts (active layer), releasing water.
  3. The water infiltrates the upper layer of soil but cannot penetrate deeper because of the frozen permafrost underneath.
  4. The water flows slowly downhill under the surface of the soil creating solifluction terraces and solifluction lobes

What happens when permafrost thaws?




Thermokarst is a land surface characterised by very irregular surfaces of marshy hollows and small hummocks formed as ice-rich permafrost thaws. Thermokarst occurs in Arctic areas, and on a smaller scale in mountainous areas such as the Himalayas and the Swiss Alps.

Thermokarst at Jackson Hole Valley, Teton National Park, Wyoming, USA



A pingo, also called a hydrolaccolith, is a mound of earth covered ice found in the Arctic and subar-ctic that can reach up to 70 m in height and up to 600 m in diameter. The term originated as the Inuvialuktun word for a small hill. The plural form is "pingos".

Pingo National Landmark, Canada



  1. Complete the following grid using information from above and p 85 of the study guide
the painted desert arid.jpg

physical characteristics of Hot, Arid Environments

Explain weathering and the processes involved in wind and water-formed features.

Explain the occurrence of flash floods.

physical characteristics of Hot, Arid Environments

Explain weathering and the processes involved in wind and water-formed features.

Explain the occurrence of flash floods.


weathering vs. erosion


weathering in deserts


Salt Crystallisation

Salt crystallisation is a weathering process in deserts that breaks down rock through the formation of salt crystals.

This can occur in two ways, both of are common in hot desert regions where low precipitation and high temperatures cause salt to form below the surface of the rock.

Type 1

  1. Temperatures fluctuate around 26-28˚C
  2. Sodium sulphate and sodium carbonate minerals in rock expand by around 300%
  3. Expansion of salt crystal formation forces joints in rock to crack

Type 2

  1. Sun heats water causing evaporation
  2. Salt crystals left behind on rock
  3. Temperatures rise and salt expands, applying pressure to joints in rock


Disintegration is a process of weathering found in deserts caused by repeated heating and cooling of rock.

Deserts have diurnal temperature ranges of up to 40˚C (difference between day and night temperatures). During the day, rocks heat up and the minerals in the rock expand. During the night, the rock contracts, causing stresses in the outer layers. This causes peeling or exfoliation to occur. Water is a key part of the process, without water the expansion of salt minerals in rock would not occur.

exfoliation disintegration.jpg

WIND EROSION in deserts

Wind performs two kinds of erosional work: abrasion and deflation.

Abrasion is a process of erosion where loose particles lying on the ground surface may be lifted into the air or rolled along the ground by wind action. In the process of wind abrasion, wind drives mineral particles against an exposed rock or soil surface, wearing down the surface.

The sandblasting action of wind abrasion is usually limited to the bottom meter or two of exposed rock above a flat plain. That’s because sand grains don’t rise much higher into the air. Wind abrasion produces pits, grooves, and hollows in the rock. You’ll often see that wooden utility poles on windswept plains have a protective metal sheathing or a heap of large stones placed around the base. Without this protection, they would quickly be cut through at the base.

Deflation is the removal of loose particles from the ground by wind. Deflation acts on loose soil or sedi- ment, and so dry river courses, beaches, and areas of recently formed glacial deposits are susceptible. In dry climates, much of the ground surface can be deflated because the soil or rock is largely bare of vegetation.

The finest particles, those of clay and silt sizes, are lifted and raised into the air—sometimes to a height of a thousand meters (about 3300 ft) or more. Sand grains are moved by moderately strong winds and usually travel within a meter or two (about 3 to 6 ft) of the ground. Gravel fragments and rounded pebbles can be rolled or pushed over flat ground by strong winds, but they don’t travel far. They become easily lodged in hollows or between other large particles. If there’s a mixture of particles of different sizes on the ground, deflation removes the finer sized particles and leaves the coarser particles behind. 




  1. Complete the A3 writing frame: describe, explain and illustrate the processes of weathering and erosion in deserts.



Mesa - Butte - Plateau - Canyon - Wadi - Pediment - Yardang - Zeugen - Salt Pan - Inselberg


flash floods


Mystery - How did this happen?


drainage basins in hot arid areas

In order to understand how a flash flood like the one above can happen in hot, arid areas, we must first understand how drainage basins work.

Look at the diagram below. How would the drainage basin system and the processes responsible for transferring water be different in hot arid areas?

Flooding occurs when rainfall intensity exceeds infiltration capacity generating surface runoff/overland flow leading to flooding.

Causes of flooding in deserts:

  1. summer convection rainfall bringing high amounts of precipitation
  2. unvegetated desert surfaces reduce interception and infiltration, increasing overland flow
  3. high concentrations of water in wadis, gullies or channels
  4. presence of desert crusts (duricrusts) and other barriers to infiltration (rocks in desert pavement etc).

infiltration and surface runoff


infiltration runoff.jpeg


  1. Draw a labelled diagram to illustrate how flash floods happen in hot, arid environments.
  2. Use all of the information above to help you.

RIVERS in deserts


  1. Name and describe the three main types of river in desert environments
  2. Explain why rivers can have considerable discharges in arid environments.