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No. 38: Mar-Apr 1985

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Galloping Glaciers

North America boasts 104 surge glaciers. No one knows why these glaciers behave so differently from normal glaciers; they certainly look the same. But while ordinary glaciers creep along a few inches per day, surging glaciers will sometimes charge ahead at the rate of several yards per hour. The surges may be years apart; and they may occur periodically. The surges start high up on the glacier and propagate down to the foot, which plods along a few inches per day until the surge arrives. Then, it leaps forward, only to return to normality until the next periodic surge. The surges seem to occur when water spreads out under the ice, lubricating its flow. Beyond this we know little.

Why do some glaciers surge while those right alongside behave normally? Are the surges really cyclic? The Variegated Glacier, in Alaska, for example, surged in 1906, probably in 1926, in 1947, in 1964-65, and in 1982 -- about 20 years between surges. The surges do not seem to be connected to earthquakes, climatic changes, volcanic heat, or anything obvious.

(Beard, Jonathan; "Glaciers on the Run," Science 85, 6:84, February 1985.)

From Science Frontiers #38, MAR-APR 1985. 1985-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987