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A broad field encompassing all aspects of the study of ice: glaciers, the largest ice masses on earth; ice that forms on rivers, lakes, and the sea; ice in the ground, including both permafrost and seasonal ice such as that which disrupts roads; ice that crystallizes directly from the air on structures such as airplanes and antennas, and all forms of snow research, including hydrological and avalanche forecasting.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(1) The science of all the forms of ice on the earth’s surface, including glaciers, snow cover, and the ice cover of bodies of water, and subterranean ice; a synonym for the general science of ice.

(2) The science of glaciers—moving, natural accumulations of ice that occur on the land as a result of the accumulation and transformation of heavy atmospheric precipitation. In this sense, glaciology is the study of the conditions and characteristics of the origin, existence, and development of glaciers, the study of their composition, structure, and physical qualities, their geological and geomorphological activity, and the various aspects of their interaction with the geographic environment. Glaciology is one of the geologic and geographic sciences. It is closely connected with physics and mechanics and makes broad use of their methods as well as the methods of the geologic and geographic sciences.

With his Journey to the Alps (1779-96), the Swiss natural scientist H. de Saussure laid the foundation of glaciology as the science of glaciers. In the 19th century the general sphere of problems of glaciology was worked out, but there was not enough systematic material on glaciers, methods of research were primitive, and knowledge of the physics of ice was inadequate. Therefore, the first stage of the development of glaciology was primarily descriptive and was characterized by the gathering of information, chiefly on the forms of glaciation in countries with temperate climates. Many principles of mountain glaciation were unjustifiably attributed to all other forms of glaciers.

The works of foreign scientists including L. Agassiz, D. Forbes, J. Tyndall, F. Forel, S. Finsterwalder, H. Reid, A. Heim, and R. Klebelsberg contributed greatly to the development of glaciology. Also valuable in glaciology’s development were studies by the Russians N. A. Bush, V. I. Lipskii, V. F. Oshanin, K. I. Podozerskii, V. V. Sapozh-nikov, B. A. Fedchenko, and P. A. Kropotkin. In Russia the study of glaciers was conducted beginning in the second half of the 19th century, basically on the initiative of the Russian Geographic Society. (The Glacial Commission was founded there under the direction of I. V. Mushketov.)

The second stage in the development of glaciology began in the 20th century and has been distinguished by extensive study of polar glaciation, a deeper understanding of the nature of ice and the essence of physical phenomena in glaciers, the organization of permanent work on glaciers, and the application of a series of new, precise methods, including photogrammetry, aerial photographic survey, geophysical probing, pollen analysis, and thermal drilling. Another important achievement of this period has been the organization of work for the determination of the rheological characteristics of ice (G. Glen and K. F. Voitkovskii) and the petrographie characteristics of different forms of ice that had been identified with mountain types (P. A. Shumskii). D. Nai, L. Lliboutry, V. N. Bogoslovskii, S. S. Vialov, and P. A. Shumskii are among the scientists who have worked out a genetic classification of ice and theories of the plastic and ductile-plastic movement of glaciers, replacing the hypotheses of sliding, volume changes, regelation, and shearing. D. Nai’s work has broadened the understanding of the dependence of glaciers on the fluctuations of climate, and P. A. Shumskii has added to our understanding of the budget of mass and energy in glaciers. M. Lagally and G. A. Avsiuk have increased our understanding of the temperature regime of glaciers, and W. Hobbs, M. V. Tronov, K. K. Markov, and S. V. Kalesnik have contributed to our knowledge of the cycles of glaciation. Kh. Al’man, M. V. Tronov, and S. V. Kalesnik have worked out in detail the problem of the hionosphere and the snow boundary. A great deal of material on the fluctuations of glaciers and their geographic distribution has been collected and analyzed. New glaciers and even new regions of contemporary glaciation, including the Urals, Vostochnyi Saian, the Indigirka basin, the Taimyr Peninsula, and the Koriakskii and Stanovoi uplands, have been discovered. Monographs on contemporary glaciation have been compiled for the northern hemisphere (edited by W. Field), the high mountain regions of Asia (H. von Wissmann), and other regions of the earth. Descriptions and catalogs have been published in the USSR of the glaciers of the Caucasus (K. I. Podozerskii and P. A. Ivan’kov), the Altai (M. V. Tronov), Middle Asia (N. L. Korzhenevskii, N. N. Pal’gov, and R. D. Zabirov), Kamchatka (P. A. Ivan’kov), the Soviet arctic (P. A. Shumskii), and Antarctica (P. A. Shumskii). S. V. Kalesnik has given a general description of the glaciation of the mountain regions of the USSR. The development of glaciology was promoted by the coordination of glaciological research in the periods of the First (1882-83) and Second (1932-33) International Polar Year and especially during the International Geophysical Year (1957-58, supplemented in 1959). The study of ice and glaciers is important among the many types of research being conducted in the program of the International Hydrological Decade (1965-75). A general catalog of the glaciers of the USSR is being compiled on the basis of the information received as a result of the International Hydrological Year.

Glaciology clearly has practical significance in view of the wide distribution of glaciers on the earth (about 11 percent of dry land) and the fact that a great quantity of fresh water (27-29 million cu km) is found in glaciers. The study of glaciers permits a more rational use of the water resources of rivers that originate in glaciers and helps avert catastrophes connected with the existence of glaciers, such as ice torrents and floods. Glaciology also helps to make an account of economically suitable territories that are being freed in connection with the fluctuations of glaciers.

Special institutions have been founded for the study of ice and glaciers in many countries, including the USSR, Switzerland, the USA, Canada, Italy, France, Great Britain, Japan, and Argentina. In 1894 the International Glacier Commission was organized. (It is now known as the Commission on Snow and Ice of the Association of Scientific Hydrology of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics.)

Periodicals on glaciology include Zeitschrift für Gletscherkunde (Berlin, 1906-42), Zeitschrift für Gletscherkunde und Glazialgeologie (Innsbruck, since 1949), the Journal of Glaciology (London, since 1947), and Materialy gliatsiologicheskikh issledovanii: Khronika obsuzhdeniia (Materials on Glaciological Research: A Chronicle of Discussion, issues 1-17, 1961-1970, publication continues).


Kalesnik, S. V. Ocherki gliatsiologii. Moscow, 1963.
Tronov, M. V. Ledniki i klimat. Leningrad, 1966.
Shumskii, P. A. Osnovy strukturnogo ledovedeniia. Moscow, 1955.
Kotliakov, V. M. Snezhnyi pokrov Zemli i ledniki. Leningrad, 1968.
Bogorodskii, V. V. Fizicheskie metody issledovaniia. Leningrad, 1968.
Oledenenie Urala. Moscow, 1966.
Oledenenie Novoi Zemli. Moscow, 1968.
Oledenenie El’brusa. Moscow, 1968.
Oledenenie Zailiiskogo Alatau. Moscow, 1969.
Charlesworth, J. The Quaternary Era, vols. 1-2. London, 1957.
Klebelsberg, R. Handbuch der Gletscherkunde and Glazialgeologie, vols. 1-2. Vienna, 1948-49.
Lliboutry, L. Traité de glaciologie, vols. 1-2. Paris, 1964-66.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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