What Is a Glacial Lake?

What Is a Glacial Lake? thumbnail
Glacial lakes contain a large percentage of the world's freshwater.

Glacial lakes are natural lakes formed from melted glaciers. The formation of glacial lakes takes thousands of years. The Great Lakes in North America began forming about 14,000 years ago, although glaciation phases occurred 1.5 million years ago during the Quaternary Period that started the glacial lake process.

  1. Glacial Lake Categories

    • Glacial lakes are classified in three ways: glacial erosion lakes, glacial cirque lakes and moraine-dammed lakes. Moraine-dammed lakes are dangerous, especially if they are connected or in proximity to current glaciers, because they can burst and release floodwater. Usually, glacial erosion lakes and glacial cirque lakes pose little to no immediate danger because they were formed from old glaciers that are no longer active.

    Global Warming and Glacial Lakes

    • The formation of glacial lakes is a natural process that evolves over time. However, global warming supporters believe recent rising global temperatures and melting ice cause glaciers to retreat faster than normal. This creates dangerous circumstances and larger lakes. Surge waves and floods occur as a result of rock and glacier avalanches, which force immense amounts of water down mountainsides, endangering people and causing destruction.

    Tourism and Glacial Lakes

    • Glacial lakes are large tourist attractions in the Northwest.
      Glacial lakes are large tourist attractions in the Northwest.

      The Northwest glacial lakes provide hiking and fishing spots for tourists. South Dakota contains fresh glacial lakes that are popular for fly fishing. Also, Glacier National Park in Montana provides tourists with activities year-round. People ski and snowboard beside the glacier mountains and lakes during the colder months. You can hike, fish and enjoy the scenery when temperatures are mild.

    Conserving Glacial Lakes

    • The Great Lakes provide abundant ecosystems for America and Canada. But without protection, environmental threats are possible from toxic chemicals and waste. Wildlife and plant life formed in the glacial lakes face extinction and endangerment. Government programs exist to conserve the glacial lakes by taking inventory of lake plants and animals, by analyzing natural resources and by protecting threatened ecosystems.

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