Glaciers are in the spotlight these days. Global warming is accelerating the melting of glaciers. But what is a glacier anyway? A glacier consists of a mass of ice that moves very slowly like a very slow flowing river. That ice mass is created by snowfall. The snow must remain long enough for the ice mass to form. This condition is usually met in the high mountains and the polar regions. That is why you will find the largest glaciers in high mountain ranges (the Alps, the Himalayas, the Andes, etc.), and in Antarctica, in Greenland and Northern Canada. Under the influence of its own weight and gravity, the ice mass slowly slides down. Constant snowfall keeps replenishing the ice mass at the top. Below is a list of the 10 large and special glaciers on our planet.
The largest glacier in Germany: the northern Schneeferner
Probably the closest glaciers from the Netherlands are in Germany. The northern and southern Schneeferner are located in the Bavarian Alps, on the flanks of the Zugspitze, the highest mountain in Germany (2,962 meters).
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The northern Schneeferner covers an area of 0.21 square kilometers and is considered the largest glacier in Germany. The glacier is on average about 17 meters thick, with a maximum thickness of 50 meters. The ice mass of the northern Schneeferner is sliding at an average speed of 30 centimeters per year.
In the nineteenth century a very large part of the flanks of the Zugspitze was covered with glacial ice, and the northern and southern Schneeferner formed one large glacier. Today, both the northern and southern Schneeferner are melting at breakneck speed. By 2050, the southern Schneeferner would have disappeared completely, while only small remnants of the northern one would remain.
The largest glacier in Africa: the northern ice field on Kilimanjaro
Due to the warm climate in Africa, it is not obvious to find glaciers on this continent. Yet you will find there, namely on the highest mountains in Africa: Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya and the Rwenzori.
Currently, the largest African glacier is the so-called Northern Ice Field on Kilimanjaro. Kilimanjaro has a total of sixteen glaciers. The area of the Northern Ice Field is about 0.95 square kilometers. Nowhere in the world are glaciers melting as quickly as in Africa. Scientists predict that all glaciers in Africa will have disappeared by 2040.
The largest ice sheet in tropical area: the Coropuna
Also in tropical areas you will only find ice caps and glaciers at high altitudes. The Coropuna volcano is the highest volcano in Peru and is covered by the largest tropical ice cap. This ice sheet has an average thickness of 80 meters and a maximum thickness of 180 meters. At the current rate of melting, the ice sheet and side glaciers on Coropuna would be completely gone by the year 2120.
The largest glacier in the Alps: the Aletsch Glacier
The Aletsch Glacier is the largest glacier in Switzerland and in the whole of the Alps. It “rises” south of Jungfrau Mountain, from the ice field called Konkordiaplatz. The thickness of the ice mass at the Konkordiaplatz is estimated at about 1,000 meters.
The Aletsch Glacier is sliding down at a very high speed, according to glacier concepts: it travels about 180 meters per year. Currently, the Aletsch Glacier still covers an area of about 81.7 square kilometers. Since the mid-19th century, it has shortened by at least 2.5 kilometers and the thickness of the ice layer has decreased by at least 100 meters.
The largest glacier in Scandinavia: the Jostedalsbreen
The Jostedalsbreen is located in the southwest of Norway. It is the largest glacier in Scandinavia and also the largest glacier on the European mainland. The Jostedalsbreen is a plateau glacier. It has a number of side glaciers, of which the Nigardsbreen is the best known.
The total area of the Jostedalsbreen is approximately 500 square kilometers. The glacier is about 100 kilometers long from north to south. The width is 15 kilometers. The thickness of the ice mass in some places increases to 500 – 600 meters. The lateral glaciers in particular are suffering from global warming. They melt down a few meters every year.
The largest glacier in Asia: the Fedtschenko glacier
In the Pamir Mountains in Tajikistan lies the largest Asian glacier: the Fedtschenko. The surface of this valley glacier is no less than 700 square kilometers. The Fedtschenko is also the largest glacier in the world, if the polar regions are not taken into account.
It is a long and narrow glacier, with a length of about 77 kilometers and a width of 10 kilometers. The maximum thickness of the ice is up to 1000 meters. The volume of the Fedtschenko is estimated at 144 cubic kilometers of ice. The length and ice mass of the glacier has been decreasing measurably since the 1930s.
The largest ice field in South America: Campo de Hielo Sur
The Campo de Hielo Sur, also called the Southern Patagonian Icefield, is a huge ice field in the Andes Mountains, on the border of Chile with Argentina. The gigantic ice field covers an area of almost 13,000 square kilometers. The Campo de Hielo Sur is the largest ice field in South America. The ice field created dozens of side glaciers, the largest of which is the Pio XI glacier. The surface of the Pio XI is over 1,260 square kilometers, its length reaches 66 kilometers. It is the longest glacier in the Southern Hemisphere, not counting the Antarctic.
The largest glacier in Russia: the ice cap on the North Island of Nova Zembla
The ice sheet on the North Island of Novaya Zemlya is Russia’s largest plateau glacier. The ice sheet covers about 40% of the island. The highest peak of the North Island, with a height of 1547 meters, is also completely covered with ice. The ice sheet covers about 20,000 square kilometers. The ice mass reaches a thickness of 400 meters in some places. Numerous side glaciers slowly drain the ice to the sea, where icebergs are formed.
The largest glacier in Europe: the Greenland ice sheet
Greenland is 80% covered by a huge ice sheet, the largest in Europe and the second largest in the world. Only the coastlines of Greenland are largely ice-free, thanks to the warmer sea water.
Hundreds of lateral glaciers drain the ice to the sea. The Jakobshavn Glacier is one of the most spectacular side glaciers on the west coast of Greenland. The Jakobshavn carries about 6.5% of the ice from the ice sheet to the sea at a rate that is “worthy of you.” The ice mass of the Jakobshavn flows at a speed of 20 meters a day, for a glacier an incredible speed. The Greenland Ice Sheet covers 1,800,000 square kilometers and reaches a maximum thickness of 3,700 meters.
The largest glacier in the world: the Antarctic Ice Sheet
The Antarctic Ice Sheet, with an area of no less than 12,300,000 square kilometers, is undoubtedly the largest plateau glacier in the world. On average, the ice sheet is about 2,000 meters thick, but in some places the thickness is up to 4,900 meters.
The Antarctic Ice Sheet includes smaller valley glaciers, the best known of which is the Lambert Glacier. This valley glacier is 400 kilometers long, has an area of about 34,000 square kilometers and a thickness of 2,500 meters. It is the largest and thickest valley glacier in the world.