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Name: Victoria H.
Status: Other
Grade: Other
Location: NJ
Country: United States
Date: March 2009

Why does snow in a glacier or iceberg look dirty from a cruise ship?


The ice in a glacier or iceberg looks dirty because it is dirty.

First, snow crystals usually form on a tiny nucleus of soil, pollutant particle, or salt.

Second, when snow falls from the cloud to the ground it "scavenges" soil, pollutants, salt, etc. from the air , although not as efficiently as rain does.

Third, soil pollutants, salt, etc. naturally falls from the air onto a glacier.

The accumulation of all of this "dirt" on the glacier over many years makes it look dirty. Also, the more the glacier melts or evaporates, the more concentrated the dirt layer on top becomes, making it look even dirtier.

David R. Cook
Argonne National Laboratory

It looks dirty because it is dirty. Glaciers advance and scrape the bedrock (the rock beneath the ice). As the rock is scraped, the fragmented bedrock gets incorporated in the ice. Glaciers calve (break) and form icebergs that float out into the ocean. The icebergs carry the sediment and thus look dirty. If you would take a closer look you would see that the icebergs look rocky, not just dirty, because of the sediment incorporated in the ice.

Leslie Kanat, Ph.D.
Professor of Geology
Department of Environmental Sciences

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