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Glaciers are made up of fallen snow that, over many years, compresses into large, thickened ice masses. Glaciers form when snow remains in one location long enough to transform into ice. What makes glaciers unique is their ability to move. Due to sheer mass, glaciers flow like very slow rivers. Some glaciers are as small as football fields, while others grow to be dozens or even hundreds of kilometers long. Presently, glaciers occupy about 10 percent of the world's total land area, with most located in polar regions like Antarctica, Greenland, and the Canadian Arctic. Glaciers can be thought of as remnants from the last Ice Age, when ice covered nearly 32 percent of the land, and 30 percent of the oceans. Most glaciers lie within mountain ranges that show evidence of a much greater extent during the ice ages of the past two million years, and more recent indications of retreat in the past few centuries. Glaciers begin to form when snow remains in the same area year-round, where enough snow accumulates to transform into ice. Each year, new layers of snow bury and compress the previous layers. This compression forces the snow to re-crystallize, forming grains similar in size and shape to grains of sugar. Gradually the grains grow larger and the air pockets between the grains get smaller, causing the snow to slowly compact and increase in density.

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Hands-on Lessons and Activities about Glaciers

Glaciers can be a difficult subject to teach. Most students haven’t ever seen one. Furthermore, glaciers’ size and relatively slow rate of change make it difficult to understand how they can change the surface of the earth. Images from online galleries and children’s literature can help students begin to visualize these massive bodies of ice. Creating models will help them develop a basic understanding of the scientific principles at work in glacial formation , movement , and erosion . While many of these lessons are written for the upper elementary grades, teachers of primary students may be able to modify them by performing demonstrations rather than investigations.

Many of these lessons and activities lend themselves to making predictions, so we’ve chosen to highlight that strategy as our literacy integration . Students become proficient readers by making predictions and evaluating them based on the text, much in the same way that proficient scientists make predictions and evaluate based on experimental data. You may choose to have students record predictions on a worksheet or in a journal, or record their oral predictions as you discuss the experiment or text.

GLACIAL FORMATION

How Do Snowflakes Become Ice? (Grades K-5) Students model the formation of ice with marshmallows or, if it is available, snow. Lesson extensions suggest using snow cones or shaved ice to model the difference between snow, firn (an intermediate stage between snow and ice), and glacial ice. This lesson meets the National Science Education Standards : Science as Inquiry Content Standard, the Physical Science Content Standard, the Earth and Space Science Content Standard, and the History and Nature of Science Content Standard.

Glacial Pressure (Grades 3-5) In this lesson plan, students model glacial formation through the compression of marshmallows, which represent snow. Students observe the effect of pressure exerted on marshmallows and draw conclusions about pressure exerted on snow.

This lesson meets the National Science Education Standards : Science as Inquiry Content Standard and the Earth and Space Science Content Standard.

GLACIAL MOVEMENT

Blue Ice Cube Melt (Grades K-5) Students experiment with blue-colored ice cubes and learn that ice can melt under pressure. This lesson meets the National Science Education Standards : Science as Inquiry Content Standard, the Physical Science Content Standard, the Earth and Space Science Content Standard, and the History and Nature of Science Content Standard.

Modeling Glacier Dynamics with Flubber (Grades 2-3) Modeling Glacier Dynamics with Flubber (Grades 3-5)

These hands-on activities simulate glacial flow. The students use a glacier-modeling compound made from glue, water, and detergent (“flubber”) to predict and observe glacial flow. The students discuss with the teacher how scientists determine glacial flow with real glaciers. The link opens a zipped file that contains three documents: the teacher’s guide, notes, and a worksheet.

This unit meets the National Science Education Standards : Science as Inquiry Content Standard and the Earth and Space Science Content Standard.

GLACIAL EROSION

Explaining Glaciers, Accurately (Grades 3-5) This article from the National Science Teachers Association journal Science and Children describes two activities that help students develop correct understanding of how glaciers change the earth’s surface by plucking and abrasion. Free for NSTA members and nonmembers.

This lesson meets the National Science Education Standards : Earth and Space Science Content Standard.

INTEGRATING LITERACY

Use the books in this month’s Virtual Bookshelf and our Feature Story to help your students practice making predictions while reading!

It Doesn’t Have to End That Way: Using Prediction Strategies with Literature (Grades K-2) Primary students listen to the beginning of a story, and then use details in the text and prior knowledge to predict the way the story will end.

This lesson meets the following NCTE/IRA standards: 3, 4, 11, 12 .

Using Prediction as a Prereading Strategy (Grades 3-5) This three part lesson includes teacher modeling, guided practice, and independent practice with response journals. The lesson uses fiction trade books, but the approach can be used with any text or content area.

This activity meets the following NCTE/IRA standards: 3, 5 .

This article was written by Jessica Fries-Gaither. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Kimberly Lightle , Principal Investigator, with any questions about the content of this site.

Copyright August 2009 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an  Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license .

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earth science glaciers worksheets

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Glacier Facts & Worksheets

Glacier is an enduring body of thick ice that moves under its weight and forms when the accumulation of snow over many years, perhaps millennia, surpasses its ablation., search for worksheets, download the glacier facts & worksheets.

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Table of Contents

A glacier is an enduring body of thick ice that moves under its weight. A glacier formed when the accumulation of snow over many years, perhaps millennia, surpasses its ablation. As it slowly flows and deforms under the strains caused by its weight, it develops unique characteristics such as crevasses and seracs. It moves, abrading rock and debris from its substrate to generate landforms like cirques, moraines, and fjords. A glacier may float into a body of water, but it forms solely on land, as opposed to the much thinner sea ice and lake ice that develops on the surface of bodies of water .

See the fact file below for more information about Glacier, or download the comprehensive worksheet pack, which contains over 11 worksheets and can be used in the classroom or homeschooling environment.

Key Facts & Information

  • The term glacier is a foreign word from French and may be traced back to the Vulgar Latin via Franco-Provençal.
  • Latin glacirium , from Late Latin glacia , and Latin glacis , meaning “ice.”
  • Glacial processes and characteristics are those induced or influenced by glaciers. Glaciation is the process of glacier formation, development, and flow. 
  • Glaciology is a comparable field of study, and glaciers play a vital role in the global cryosphere.

CLASSIFICATION: SIZE, SHAPES, AND BEHAVIOR

  • Glaciers are classified based on their form, thermal properties, and behavior. Alpine glaciers grow on mountain crests and slopes. Valley glaciers, also known as alpine glacier, is a glacier that fills a valley. An ice cap or field is a vast body of glacial ice that sits atop a mountain range or volcano .
  • Ice caps cover less than 50,000 km2 (19,000 sq mi). Ice sheets or continental glaciers are glacial masses greater than 50,000 km2 (19,000 sq mi). They are many kilometers deep and hide the underlying landscape. Nunataks are the only things that protrude from their surfaces. The only remaining ice sheets are those that cover the majority of Antarctica and Greenland .
  • They hold so much freshwater that if both dissolved, global sea levels would increase by more than 70 meters (230 ft). Ice shelves are pieces of an ice sheet or cap that extend into the ocean; they are typically narrow, with restricted slopes and velocities. Ice streams are limited, fast-moving parts of an ice sheet.
  • Many ice streams in Antarctica flow onto enormous ice shelves. Some, like Mertz Glacier, drain directly into the sea, frequently with an ice tongue.
  • Many glaciers moving from Greenland, Antarctica, Baffin, Devon, and Ellesmere Islands in Canada , Southeast Alaska , and the Northern and Southern Patagonian Ice Fields are tidewater glaciers.
  • As the ice hits the sea, parts break off or calve, forming icebergs. Most tidewater glaciers calve above sea level, resulting in a massive impact as the iceberg strikes the water. Tidewater glaciers rise and retreat through centuries-long cycles that are far less impacted by climate change than other glaciers.

CLASSIFICATION: THERMAL STATE

  • A temperate glacier melts throughout the year, from its surface to its base. Polar glacier ice is constantly below the freezing point from the surface to the bottom, while the surface snowpack may melt seasonally.
  • A subpolar glacier contains both temperate and polar ice, depending on its depth under the surface and location along its length. Similarly, a glacier’s thermal regime is frequently defined by its basal temperature.
  • A cold-based glacier has an ice-ground contact below freezing and is frozen to the underlying substrate.
  • A warm-based glacier is above or near freezing at the interface and can slide there. This disparity is assumed to regulate a glacier’s capacity to successfully erode its bed since moving ice encourages tugging at the rock from the surface below.
  • Polythermal glaciers are those that are partially cold and partly warm.
  • Glaciers arise when snow and ice buildup surpass ablation.

A glacier is frequently formed by a cirque landform (also known as a “corrie” or a “cwm”), which is a characteristically armchair-shaped geological feature (such as a dip between mountains enclosed by arêtes) that accumulates and compresses the snow that falls into it by gravity.

  • This snow collects, and the weight of the snow falling compacts above it, resulting in the formation of névé (powdery snow).
  • Crushing the tiny snowflakes and squeezing the air out of the snow further transforms it into “glacial ice.” This glacial ice will cover the cirque until it “overflows” via a geological void or weakness, such as a breach between two mountains. When a pile of snow and ice becomes thick enough, it starts to move due to various surface slopes, gravity, and pressure.
  • It can happen on steeper slopes with as little as 15 m (50 ft) of snow-ice. Snow continually freezes and thaws in temperate glaciers, transforming into granular ice known as firn. This fine ice combines into denser firn under the weight of the layers of ice and snow above it.
  • Over time, firn layers grow more compacted and eventually turn into glacial ice. Because glacier ice has fewer trapped air bubbles, it is somewhat denser than ice created from frozen water.
  • Glacial ice is blue because it collects red light due to an overtone of the water molecule ‘s infrared OH stretching mode. (For the same reason, liquid water appears blue; the blue of glacier ice is frequently falsely attributed to Rayleigh’s scattering of bubbles in the ice.)
  • A glacier begins at a position known as the glacier head and ends at the glacier foot, snout, or terminal.
  • Glaciers are classified according to their surface snowpack and melt conditions. The ablation zone is the glacier area with a net mass loss, and the accumulation zone is the highest section of a glacier when accumulation surpasses ablation. The equilibrium line is the contour that divides the ablation zone from the accumulation zone; it is the contour where the quantity of fresh snow obtained by accumulation equals the amount of ice lost by ablation.
  • In general, the buildup zone accounts for 60-70% of the glacier’s surface area, with the accumulation zone accounting for even more of the glacier calves icebergs. The accumulation zone’s ice is deep enough to impose a downward pull on the underlying rock.
  • When a glacier melts, it frequently leaves behind a bowl- or amphitheater-shaped depression ranging in size from enormous basins like the Great Lakes to tiny mountain depressions known as cirques.
  • Can use the melt conditions of the accumulation zone to partition it.
  • The dry snow zone is characterized as a place with no melt, even during the summer, and a dry snowfall.
  • The percolation zone is a region with a surface melt that allows meltwater to seep into the snowpack. This zone is frequently distinguished by refrozen ice lenses, glands, and layers. Similarly, the snowpack never reaches the melting point.
  • A superimposed ice zone forms around the equilibrium line on some glaciers. Meltwater in the glacier refreezes as a cool layer, resulting in a persistent ice mass in this zone.
  • The wet snow zone is where all of the snow that has fallen since the end of the previous summer has reached 0 °C.
  • A glacier’s health is often determined by estimating the glacier mass balance or watching terminal activity. Healthy glaciers feature vast accumulation zones, more than 60% of their area is snow-covered after the melt season, and a vigorously flowing terminal.
  • Glaciers have receded significantly since the end of the Little Ice Age, about 1850. Between 1950 and 1985, a slight cooling caused many alpine glaciers to advance, but after 1985, glacier retreat and mass loss became more significant and widespread.
  • Glaciers migrate or flow downwards due to gravity and internal ice deformation. Ice acts like a brittle solid until its thickness surpasses around 50 m (160 ft). Plastic flow is caused by pressure on ice deeper than 50 meters. 
  • Ice comprises stacked layers of molecules with relatively weak connections at the molecular level. The layer above moves faster than the layer below when the load on the layer above surpasses the inter-layer binding strength.
  • Glaciers move with basal sliding as well. A glacier glides across the land it resides on, lubricated by the existence of liquid water. The water is formed when the ice melts under high pressure due to frictional heating. In temperate or warm-based glaciers, basal sliding is prevalent.

FRACTURE ZONE AND CRACKS

  • Because of the low pressure, the glacier’s top 50 meters (160 feet) are stiff. The fracture zone is the upper part, which travels primarily as a single unit over the plastic-flowing bottom segment. 
  • Crevasses form in the fracture zone of a glacier when it advances across uneven terrain—variations in glacier velocity cause crevasses to develop. Shear pressure causes two stiff portions of a glacier to break apart and open a crack if they move at opposite rates or orientations.
  • Crevasses are rarely more than 46 m (150 ft) deep but can be at least 300 m (1,000 ft) deep in extreme situations. The flexibility of the ice under this point prevents fissures from forming. Intersecting crevasses can form solitary ice peaks known as seracs.
  • Friction influences the pace of glacial movement, and friction causes the ice at the glacier’s bottom to move more slowly than at the glacier’s top. Friction is also formed along the valley’s sidewalls in alpine glaciers, slowing the margins relative to the center.
  • The average glacial pace varies widely, although it is usually approximately 1 meter (3 feet) daily. In static locations, there may be little movement; for example, trees can sustain themselves on surface sediment deposits in portions of Alaska. Other glaciers, such as Greenland’s Jakobshavn Isbrae, can flow as quickly as 20-30 m (70-100 ft) each day.
  • Slope, ice thickness, precipitation, longitudinal confinement, baseline temperature, meltwater production, and bed hardness all influence glacial pace.
  • Surges are episodes of swift progress on a few glaciers. These glaciers typically travel until they suddenly accelerate and then revert to their former movement condition. 
  • The breakdown of the underlying bedrock might trigger these surges, the pooling of meltwater at the glacier’s base — possibly delivered from a supraglacial lake — or simply the accumulation of mass beyond a crucial “tipping point.”
  • Ogives (or Forbes bands) are recurring wave crests and troughs that show on glacier surfaces as dark and light ice bands. They are related to seasonal glacier motion; the breadth of one dark and one bright band roughly reflects the glacier’s yearly movement. 
  • When ice from an icefall is badly broken up, it increases the ablation surface area throughout the summer. It provides a swale and room for snow accumulation in the winter, leading to a ridge formation. Ogives merely undulations or color bands are called wave ogives or band ogives.

CLIMATE CHANGE

  • Glaciers are essential for detecting long-term climate change since they can be hundreds of thousands of years old.
  • Ice cores are extracted to investigate the patterns throughout time in glaciers, giving frequent feedback, including evidence for climate change stored in the ice for scientists to break down and analyze. Glaciers are examined to understand the history of climate change caused by natural or human factors.
  • Human activity has generated a rise in greenhouse gases, resulting in global warming and the melting of these crucial glaciers. Glaciers have an albedo impact, and melting glaciers result in reduced albedo. Compared to the summer of 2003 in the Alps to the summer of 1988, the albedo value in 2003 was 0.2 lower than in 1998.
  • When glaciers melt, sea levels rise, “which increases coastal erosion and boosts storm surge as warmer air and ocean temperatures generate more frequent and stronger coastal storms like hurricanes and typhoons.”
  • Thus, human-caused climate change generates a positive feedback loop with glaciers: rising temperatures drive more glacier melt, resulting in less albedo, higher sea levels, and a slew of other climatic challenges.
  • NASA has employed a Landsat satellite to record glaciers in Alaska, Greenland, and Antarctica since 1972 and will persist until 2019. This Landsat project discovered that glacier retreat had risen significantly since roughly 2000.

Glacier Worksheets

This bundle contains 11   ready-to-use Glacier Worksheets that are perfect for students who want to learn more about a Glacier, which is an enduring body of thick ice that moves under its weight and forms when the accumulation of snow over many years, perhaps millennia, surpasses its ablation.

Download includes the following worksheets:

  • Glacier Facts
  • Glacier Sketch
  • Glacier Yes Or No
  • Glacier Acrostic Poem
  • Glacier Formation
  • Glacier Fill In The Blanks
  • Spot The Glaciers
  • Animals In Glaciers
  • All About The Titanic
  • Glacier News Report
  • Glacier Word Search

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a glacier.

A glacier is an enduring body of thick ice that moves under its weight. 

How does a glacier get its name?

The term glacier is a foreign word from French and may be traced back to the Vulgar Latin via Franco-Provençal. Latin glacirium , from Late Latin glacia , and Latin glacis , meaning “ice.”

How does glacier forms?

Why is glacier ice blue.

Glacial ice is blue because it collects red light due to an overtone of the water molecule’s infrared OH stretching mode.

How does climate change affect glaciers? 

When glaciers melt, sea levels rise, “which increases coastal erosion and boosts storm surge as warmer air and ocean temperatures generate more frequent and stronger coastal storms like hurricanes and typhoons.” Thus, human-caused climate change generates a positive feedback loop with glaciers: rising temperatures drive more glacier melt, resulting in less albedo, higher sea levels, and a slew of other climatic challenges.

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Link will appear as Glacier Facts & Worksheets: https://kidskonnect.com - KidsKonnect, October 26, 2017

Use With Any Curriculum

These worksheets have been specifically designed for use with any international curriculum. You can use these worksheets as-is, or edit them using Google Slides to make them more specific to your own student ability levels and curriculum standards.

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Google Earth Tours of Glacier Change

Mauri Pelto, SERC - On the Cutting Edge Collection

earth science glaciers worksheets

A detailed Google Earth tour of glacier change over the last 50 years introduces this topic in an engaging way. Students are then asked to select from a group of glaciers and create their own Google Earth tour exploring key characteristics and visible changes in that glacier.

Notes from our reviewers

The CLEAN collection is hand-picked and rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy and classroom effectiveness. Read what our review team had to say about this resource below or learn more about how CLEAN reviews teaching materials .

  • Teaching Tips If students look at the two glacier tours on their own, they would need a worksheet or other guidance to keep them on track. Educator will have to provide assessment questions.
  • About the Science Combines Google Earth imagery, photographs, topographic overlays and data from glaciers and landforms in a lab activity. Powerful way of using Google Earth. Uses many lines of evidence to build an understanding for the effects of climate change on glaciers. The Google Earth tours are loaded with quality information and present data is in several different formats. These glaciers may have undergone additional changes since this activity was created, so it may be worth investigating additional sources of imagery or data. The USGS has a repeat photography program in Alaska and Montana to observe changes in glaciers. Comments from expert scientist: The activity provides the students a feel of changes occurring on glaciers due to climate change over the past 50 years. Studying and learning become more effective when you actually start feeling it and sensing it. This is what this activity lends.
  • About the Pedagogy First part of the activity is passive as students watch the Google Earth tour. But the second part of the activity is active and students create their own glacier tour in Google Earth. Students must already be facile Google Earth users as is stated in the activity; this activity would overwhelm new users. Activity can be done independently or guided by educator. The glacier tours can be used as a standalone presentation for students who are not ready to dive into Google Earth. Activity can be done without computer lab based on link in supporting materials.
  • Technical Details/Ease of Use The .kmz files create a very thorough presentation.

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Yes Sir, That's My Baby Glacier!

This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see https://serc.carleton.edu/teachearth/activity_review.html .

Students will create their own glacier, and explore their effect on the land, modeling how they melt, how they move, and erode and deposit sediment. Students will be able to determine and describe isostatic rebound, create and identify common glacial landforms such as moraines, drumlins, erratics, kettle lakes, and striations, and explain the role glaciers play in landscape development and how climate change may impact glaciers and their related features.

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Earth Science for Kids

earth science glaciers worksheets

  • Calving - A calving glacier is one that ends in a body of water like a lake or an ocean. The term calving comes from icebergs that break off the glacier or "calve" into the water. If the body of water has tides (like the ocean), the glacier may also be called a tidewater glacier.
  • Cirque - Cirque glaciers form on the slopes of mountains. They are also called alpine or mountain glaciers.
  • Hanging - Hanging glaciers form on the side of a mountain above a glacial valley. They are called hanging because they do not reach the valley where the main glacier is located.
  • Ice cap - An ice cap is formed when ice completely covers an area of land such that no part of the land, not even mountain peaks, poke through the top of the ice cap.
  • Ice field - An ice field is when ice completely covers a flat area.
  • Piedmont - A piedmont glacier is formed when a glacier flows into a plain at the edge of a mountain range.
  • Polar - A polar glacier is one that is formed in an area where the temperature is always below the freezing point.
  • Temperate - A temperate glacier is one that coexists with liquid water.
  • Valley - A valley glacier is one that fills a valley between two mountains.
  • Arete - An arete is a steep ridge formed by two glaciers that erode on opposite sides of a ridge.
  • Cirque - A cirque is a bowl-shaped landform in the side of a mountain made by the head of a glacier.
  • Drumlin - A drumlin is a long oval-shaped hill created by glacial ice movement.
  • Fjord - A fjord is a U-shaped valley between steep cliffs created by glaciers.
  • Horn - A horn is a pointy-shaped mountain peak created when many glaciers erode the same mountain top.
  • Moraine - A moraine is an accumulation of material (called till) left behind by a glacier. Examples include rocks, sand, gravel, and clay.
  • Tarn - Tarns are lakes that fill up cirques once the glacier has melted.

earth science glaciers worksheets

  • Most of the country of Greenland is covered with a giant icecap that is nearly two miles thick in areas.
  • Because of friction , the top of a glacier moves faster than the bottom.
  • A retreating glacier doesn't actually travel backward, but is melting faster than it is gaining new ice.
  • Sometimes glaciers will move much faster than normal. This is called a glacial "surge."
  • At over 125 miles long, Bering Glacier in Alaska is the longest glacier in the United States.
  • A scientist who studies glaciers is called a glaciologist.
  • Take a ten question quiz about this page.
  • Listen to a recorded reading of this page:

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  • Glaciers, Water and Wind, Oh My!

Hands-on Activity Glaciers, Water and Wind, Oh My!

Grade Level: 5 (3-5)

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Engineers make a world of difference

Civil engineers carefully study the surrounding environment and soil types in order to safely build any sort of structure. Buildings, roads and bridges require solid foundations and, if possible, an area not prone to erosion (such as a flood plain). Engineers choose materials that resist the type of erosion that a particular area is exposed to, such as waterproof materials or materials not affected by acid rain. Environmental engineers plant trees and other vegetation in order to help prevent wind and water erosion; plants and their roots stabilize the soil and make it less exposed to erosion. Vegetation can also help to neutralize acid rain. Engineers also design roads, bridges and sidewalks in a way that permits them to expand and contract with temperature changes to minimize any cracking, for example, sidewalk grooves and bridge expansion joints.

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • List several different types of erosion.
  • Compare and contrast the effects of various types of erosion.
  • Discuss how engineers work to prevent erosion.

Educational Standards Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards. All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN) , a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org). In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g. , by state; within source by type; e.g. , science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc .

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To share with the entire class:

Chemical Erosion Station

  • glass tray or Petri dish
  • rock samples that contain calcite mineral (calcium carbonate), such as limestone, marble, certain cements/mortars
  • other rock samples, such as brick, granite, most gravels
  • weak acid, such as lemon juice or vinegar
  • magnifying glass
  • paper towels

Water Erosion Station

  • large container, such as a deep plastic bin at least 18 x 9 inches (46 x 23 cm)
  • 12 coins or poker chips
  • watering can that has several holes in the spout

Wind Erosion Station

  • small-size motorized fan, handheld is preferred
  • large bin or box with no top

Glacier Erosion Station

  • ice cubes, enough for one per group
  • modeling clay; NOT Play-Doh®

Temperature Erosion Station

  • heat source, such as a burner or hot plate
  • 3 glass beakers
  • plastic tongs
  • marbles, one per group

Each group needs:

  • Erosion Worksheet , one per student
  • Erosion Math Worksheet , one per student

The teacher needs:

  • stopwatch, clock or wristwatch, to time 7-8 minute rotation intervals

A photograph shows a large landslide caused by water erosion. A town at the base of a mountain is partially destroyed. Many of the town's structures are completely or partially covered by dirt from the mountain landslide that came down from above it.

What is erosion? Have you heard that word before? Erosion is the process of wearing away the surface of the Earth in different ways. Erosion can happen from wind, water, ice, temperature and even chemicals found in nature. Erosion is all around us. You have probably seen some type of erosion without even realizing it. Have you noticed bits of sand and dirt being carried away by water after a rainfall? How about the side of a building or a statue that has become smooth or worn down as it ages? How about a crack in the sidewalk or road that was not there before? Or a sidewalk crack that you noticed getting larger by the week? All of these changes can happen from erosion. Wind and water can carry away dirt, sand and soil from one area, rub it against an object (similar to the effects of sandpaper) that it moves over, and deposit it somewhere entirely different. Temperature changes can cause some materials to contract (shrink) and expand, which causes them to crack over time. Acid rain from pollution causes chemicals in the air to slowly break down buildings, trees and statues. Even ice in the form of huge glaciers can drag away piece of land as they move downhill with the force of gravity.

Erosion is constantly shaping the Earth's surface. Our Earth looks different than it did 100 years ago and will look even more different 100 years in the future. Erosion has built mountains and carved out deep valleys. All this erosion takes a toll on human-made structures as well. Significant landmarks, like the Sphinx in Egypt or pyramids in South America, can be destroyed if not protected from erosional forces. Damage caused by erosion can cost a lot of money to repair. Large-scale erosion is often dangerous to people when it results in landslides and flooding.

Engineers study erosion so that they can protect the environment, structures, landmarks and people's lives. Engineers design and build structures such as houses, buildings and roads for people to live and work in and, of course, on which to drive their vehicles. They intentionally develop designs that help to protect people from landslides and flooding, like levees and barriers. Engineers are also involved in protecting existing land formations and landmarks that people want to keep around, such as ancient pyramids and national monuments.

Today, we are going to look at five types of weathering. We are going to learn about the effects of each type on our surroundings on Earth. Then, we will be one step closer to working out problems like engineers, who need to know about erosion for so many things!

Before the Activity

  • Gather materials and make copies of the Erosion Worksheet  and Erosion Math Worksheet .
  • Since some of the stations can be messy, consider conducting the entire activity outside to make for easier cleanup.
  • Set up five stations and disperse the materials to each.
  • For the chemical erosion station, make sure to label the rock samples.
  • For the water erosion station, make sure to place soil in the container.
  • For the wind erosion station, make sure to set up a pile of sand in the large box, or outside, and place the fan far enough away from the sand so that it does not blow it all over the place. The purpose of the fan is to move a layer of sand from the center to the another side of the box, gradually moving the entire "sand dune."
  • For the temperature station, decide if you want to conduct it as a demonstration or arrange for an adult helper.

With the Students

Station 1: Chemical Erosion Station

  • Place one of the rocks in the glass tray.
  • Use the eyedropper to slowly add drops of lemon juice/vinegar to the rock.
  • Use the magnifying glass to observe the rock.
  • Record your observations on the worksheet. Did the rock bubble when you placed the weak acid on it?
  • Discuss with your partners why you think such a reaction occurred.
  • Remove the rock, dry it off, and set it off to the side with the rest of the rocks.
  • Pour into the sink any liquid in the glass tray.
  • Repeat steps 1-7 with all the remaining rocks.

Station 2: Water Erosion Station

  • In a large container, form a mountain of soil that is about 3 inches across (wide) at the top and about 5 or 6 inches tall.
  • Press the coins/chips into the surface of the dirt/clay. Place them at different angles with an edge protruding out; leave about half the coin showing.
  • Use the watering can to create a rainstorm by pouring water on the "mountain."
  • Record your observations. Are the coins sticking out more or less? What does the bottom of the mountain look like?
  • Remove the coins and place them onto a paper towel to dry.
  • Drain the water into a sink.

Station 3: Wind Erosion Station

  • Form a pile of sand in the center of the box that is approximately 5 or 6 inches tall.
  • Turn on the fan so it blows air lightly over the sand from one end of the box to the other.
  • Record your observations. Did the pile of sand move?

Station 4: Glacier Erosion Station

  • Take some clay from the container—about a ball that is ~1-2 inches in diameter.
  • Flatten the clay onto the surface on the tray.
  • Press an ice cube against the flattened clay and move it back and forth several times.
  • Record your observations. Does anything happen to the clay when you rub the ice cube on it?
  • Place a small pile of sand on the clay and then place the ice cube on top of the sand for 1-2 minutes.
  • Pick up the ice cube and observe the surface of the cube that was touching the sand and record your observations. What does the bottom of the ice cube look like?
  • Place the same side of the ice cube on the sandy part of the clay and move it back and forth several times.
  • Remove the ice cube and wipe away the sand from the surface of the clay.
  • Record your observations. What does the texture of the surface of the clay feel like?
  • Place the clay back where it came from and throw away the remaining ice and sand.

Station 5: Temperature Erosion Station (conduct as a demo or with an adult helper)

  • PUT ON SAFETY GOGGLES!!
  • Use the tongs to place a marble into a beaker.
  • Turn the burner on about ¾ of the way.
  • Leave the marble in the beaker for 5 minutes.
  • While you are waiting, make sure you have enough water in one beaker and ice in the other beaker.
  • After 5 minutes, turn off the burner.
  • Use the tongs to place the marble briefly into the water and then into the beaker of ice.
  • Look at the marble and record your observations.
  • Take off your safety goggles.

acid rain: Rain containing acids that form in the atmosphere when industrial gas emissions (especially sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides) combine with water.

deposition: The act or process by which an agent of erosion, such as wind or water, lays down matter (sediment).

erosion: The wearing away of the surface of the Earth by natural processes (weathering, dissolution, abrasion, corrosion, etc.).

geology: The scientific study of the origin, history and structure of the Earth.

glacier: A huge mass of ice slowly flowing over a land mass, formed from compacted snow in an area where snow accumulation exceeds melting.

limestone: A type of sedimentary rock consisting of the mineral calcium carbonate.

sediment: Material that settles to the bottom of a liquid.

weathering: Gradual physical and chemical wearing away of rocks.

Pre-Activity Assessment

Discussion Questions: Solicit, integrate and summarize student responses.

  • What is erosion?
  • What is an example of erosion that you have seen in nature?

Activity Embedded Assessment

Worksheet:  As students work through the five stations, have them record their observations on the Erosion Worksheet . Review their answers to gauge their mastery of the subject.

Post-Activity Assessment

Math Word Problems : Hand out the Erosion Math Worksheet and direct students to calculate the effect of erosion in each of the five scenarios. Discuss how engineers might need to solve similar problems when working to protect the environment, structures, landmarks and people's lives.

Define It! Drawing : Have students draw pictures of each of the five types of erosion that were discussed and write their own definitions of erosion (and its effects) at the bottom of the page. Review their answers to gauge the depth of their comprehension of the topic.

Safety Issues

  • Use eye protection (goggles or safety glasses) whle conducting the experiment at the Temperature Erosion Station.
  • If students are not accustomed to using hot plates/burners, have an adult supervise the Temperature Erosion Station—or conduct this station as a class demonstration.

Consider conducting the Acid Rain Effects  activity to look at how chemical erosion can affect living and non-living things.

Have students become "erosion detectives" and develop a list of things in their area (school, home, park) that show evidence of erosion at work.

Have students design a way to show the effects of multiple types of erosion on one piece of land (or pile of soil). Does adding more types of erosion (wind AND water) to the land increase the landscape changes? Next, have the students imagine and then sketch designs for how they might protect their land (or pile of soil) from the various types of erosion, which is what engineers are asked to do.

For upper grades, have students complete the Erosion Math Worksheet when they finish the stations.

For lower grades, conduct all the stations as class demonstrations with student volunteers to help at each. Then discuss student observations as class.

earth science glaciers worksheets

Students are introduced to the primary types of erosion—chemical, water, wind, glacier and temperature. Students investigate examples of each erosion type and discuss how erosion changes the surface of the Earth.

preview of 'The Earth is a Changin'' Lesson

Students learn about landslides, discovering that there are different types of landslides that occur at different speeds — from very slow to very quick. All landslides are the result of gravity, friction and the materials involved. Students learn what makes landslides dangerous and what engineers ar...

preview of 'All About Landslides: Land on the Run' Lesson

Students are introduced to natural disasters and learn the difference between natural hazards and natural disasters.

preview of 'Naturally Disastrous' Lesson

Students are introduced to three types of material stress related to rocks: compressional, torsional and shear. They learn about rock types (sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic), and about the occurrence of stresses and weathering in nature, including physical, chemical and biological weathering.

preview of 'Rock Solid' Lesson

Cavers, Curtis. "Soil Management on Potato Land." March 2006. Crops, Food and Rural Initiatives, Manitoba Agriculture. Accessed November 9, 2020. https://www.gov.mb.ca/agriculture/crops/crop-management/potatoes-soil-management-on-potato-land.html.

"Acid Rain." Unit 5: The Wonderful Solvent: Water, Articles, Science (S1-3), Science Education Section, Education and Manpower Bureau, Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China. Accessed July 25, 2006. Originally found at http://resources.ed.gov.hk/~s1sci/R_S1Science /sp/en/syllabus/unit5/article-ar.htm

"Erosional Landforms." May 3, 2005. Natural Hazards, National Geophysical Data Center, NOAA Satellite and Information Services. Accessed August 1, 2006. Originally found at http://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/seg/hazard/slideset/24/24_slides.shtml

Erosion. Natural Resource Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Accessed August 1, 2006. Originally found at http://www.mo.nrcs.usda.gov/news/MOphotogallery/erosion.html

Erosion. Natural Resource Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Accessed August 1, 2006. Oringially found at http://www.ctenvirothon.org/studyguides/soil_docs/wind_water_erosion_pics.pdf

"USGS Landslide Hazards." November 28, 2005. Landslide Hazards Program, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Department of the Interior. Accessed November 9, 2020. http://landslides.usgs.gov/

"Does This Material React with Acid?" July 3, 2001. Activity 9, Activities to Explore Acid Rain and Building Stones, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Department of the Interior. Accessed August 1, 2006. Originally found at http://geology.er.usgs.gov/eastern/acid9.html

Contributors

Supporting program, acknowledgements.

The contents of this digital library curriculum were developed under grants from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), U.S. Department of Education and National Science Foundation (GK-12 grant no. 0338326). However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the Department of Education or National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: November 9, 2020

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Earth Science Week Classroom Activities

Glacier slide, activity source:.

National Park Service

You will be able to describe how a glacier carves an area and label the characteristics formed by the glacier’s movement.

There are many glaciers all over Alaska. Flying into Lake Clark National Park and Preserve through Lake Clark Pass, you will see many glaciers. These glaciers were growing during the last Ice Age. Now many are retreating because Alaska is getting warmer. As the glaciers melt they leave behind evidence of their presence. The evidence includes moraines, erratics, and U-shaped valleys. The weight and movement of glaciers has a changing effect on the landscape. They pick-up rocks, scour out canyons, and push rock debris in front of them as they are growing or flowing. When the glacier is retreating it leaves behind large rocks and boulders known as erratics. It leaves behind a terminal moraine where it stops. Glaciers can create lakes, valleys and areas known as kettle marshes. Their weight and movement are the tools a glacier uses to shape the landscape. Use this experiment to look at small “glaciers” and how they shape the landscape around them.

Half-gallon milk carton, 12 foot long X 1 foot wide panel or board, sand, rocks, and gravel.

  • Remove one side panel from the milk carton.
  • Fill 1/3 of the milk carton with sand, rocks and gravel mixed with water. Put in freezer.
  • When frozen remove from freezer and add another 1/3 sand, gravel and rock mixed with water and freeze.
  • When frozen fill final 1/3 with more mix. Freeze until solid.
  • On a day when the temperature is above 55ºF and below 80ºF, lay out the board or panel. Set it up at a 20º angle.
  • Spread gravel about 1 inch thick on top of the panel.
  • Remove frozen block from the milk carton and lay at the top of the panel.
  • After approximately 1 hour observe the movement of the block and the carving it created in the gravel.
  • In a journal or your Ranger Notebook, write down the types of formations created by the block. Draw a picture to illustrate your observations.
  • How is the block like a glacier?
  • Try for free

Glaciers: Ice That Flows

earth science glaciers worksheets

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Science Giants: Earth & Space

Science Giants: Earth & Space

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Wild Earth Lab

Glaciers: Science on Ice! An earth science unit

$ 10.00

Science on Ice: Glaciers is a unique earth sciences unit for kids! Students will learn all about valley glaciers, ice caps & ice sheets, and post-glacial landscapes! Plus it includes tons of information on paleoclimatology, ice core research, climate change, glacial landforms, and more!

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Glaciers: Science on Ice is a unique earth science unit for kids! Students will learn all about valley glaciers, ice caps & ice sheets, and post-glacial landscapes! Plus, it includes tons of information on paleoclimatology, ice core research, climate change, and more! This huge collection of learning materials is a perfect wintertime unit, or use it any time of year! It includes all the activities, decorations, flashcards, and worksheets that you will need for a cool glaciers unit!

Bundle and save: grab this unit and more in my Winter Collection !

Age group:   This unit was created with universal design in mind and is suitable for a wide range of grade levels, approximately late elementary through high school. These materials are also suitable for mixed-age group classrooms (e.g., nature/STEM camps, homeschooling).

Materials Included  (41 page PDF file)

→ PART 1: INTRO AND FORMATION OF GLACIERS: introductory handout, formation poster, blank formation diagram, and reusable tiles. → PART 2: TYPES OF GLACIERS: valley glacier and ice cap diagrams, blank diagrams, and vocab lists. Also a Venn diagram activity with directions. → PART 3: GLACIER RESEARCH: informational handout on paleoclimatology and ice cores, glacier research project worksheet. → PART 4: GLACIAL LANDFORMS: poster, three-part & info cards, flashcard activities, and types of moraines. Also an erosion play dough activity, and a last glacial maximum activity. → Includes directions and keys for instructors + Bonus materials : online resources & suggestions for expanding upon this unit’s topic are available here .

Please Note:

→These materials and all artwork within are for personal and single-classroom use only . Please, do not sell, share, or alter these materials. Print these materials for personal and single-classroom use as many times as you like. Please contact me if you have questions or are interested in purchasing multiple licenses for your school or organization.

→ This is an instant PDF download , not a physical item. I recommend 1-sided printing on 8.5-inch by 11-inch paper .

→ Due to the nature of digital products, all purchases are final . However, please contact me with any concerns about your order.

→Complete the activities in this pack with adult supervision. Outdoor activities may involve certain risks including but not limited to trips/falls, exposure to the elements, wildlife, etc. Do not complete the outdoor activities in unsafe areas or conditions (steep terrain, bad weather, etc.).

Get in Touch:

I’m happy to answer your questions about this item – please don’t hesitate to reach out to me 🙂

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