A nunatak (from Inuit nunataq) is an exposed, often rocky element of a ridge, mountain, or peak not covered with ice or snow within (or at the edge of) an ice field or glacier. The term is typically used in areas where a permanent ice sheet is present. Nunataks present readily identifiable landmark reference points in glaciers or ice caps and are often named.
Lifeforms on nunataks are frequently isolated by the surrounding ice or glacier creating unique habitats. Nunataks are generally angular and jagged because of freeze-thaw weathering, and can be seen to contrast strongly with the softer contours of the glacially eroded land below if the glacier retreats.
The word is of Greenlandic origin (quote: Nunataq — a hill or mountain completely surrounded by glacial ice) and has been used in western European languages since the 1870s.