Ice field

Ice field

An ice field (also spelled icefield) is an area less than 50,000 km² (19,305 mile²) of ice often found in the colder climates and higher altitudes of the world where there is sufficient precipitation It is an extensive area of interconnected valley glaciers from which the higher peaks rise as nunataks. Ice fields are larger than alpine glaciers, smaller than ice sheets and similar in area to ice caps.


Ice fields are formed by a large accumulation of snow which, through years of compression and freezing, turns into ice. Due to ice’s susceptibility to gravity, ice fields usually form over large areas that are basins or atop plateaus thus allowing a continuum of ice to form over the landscape and not be interrupted by glacial channels. Glaciers often form on the edges of ice fields serving as gravity-propelled drains on the ice field which is in turn replenished by the ice field’s snowfall.

While an ice cap is unconstrained by topography, an icefield is. An ice field is also distinguishable from an ice cap because it does not have a dome-like form (Summerfield 1991).

Ice fields of the world


While not technically an ice field (a continental-sized ice sheet rather), Antarctica is extensively covered by ice.


There are a handful of ice fields in the Himalayas and Altay Mountains (the border range between the Central Asian Republics and China). One unexpected ice field is located in Yolyn Am, a mountain valley located in the northern end of the Gobi Desert.


There are no ice fields in Australia but there are a few in New Zealand, including the Garden of Eden, the Garden of Allah, and the Olivine Ice Plateau.


The only large ice fields in continental Europe are in Norway (e.g., Dovre and Jotunheimen), but these are much smaller than their Canadian or Alaskan counterparts. There are a handful of small ice fields, also, in the southern Alps. Iceland also features a large ice field that covers a high percentage of the island.


Like Antarctica, Greenland is a continental-sized ice sheet and not technically an ice field.

North America

One of the more famous North American ice fields is the Columbia Icefield located in the Rocky Mountains between Jasper and Banff, Alberta. However, despite its fame, it is actually a comparatively small ice field relative to the America cordillera.

A large number of particularly expansive ice fields lie in the Coast Mountains, Alaska Range, and Chugach Mountains of Alaska, British Columbia, and the Yukon Territory. Both the 6,500 km² Stikine Icecap (located between the Stikine and Taku Rivers) and the 2,500 km² Juneau Icefield (located between Lynn Canal and the Taku River) are both straddled along the British Columbian-Alaskan border. Farther north the Kluane Icecap — which feeds the immense Malaspina and Hubbard Glaciers as well as the Bagley Icefield. — sits upon the British Columbia-Yukon Territory-Alaska border and surrounds most of the Saint Elias Mountains as well as both Mount Saint Elias and Mount Logan but also extends as far west as the Copper River.

There are also large ice fields located in the Kenai Peninsula-Chugach Mountains area such as the Sargent Icefield and the Harding Icefield. Throughout the Alaska Range there also large icefields (including one surrounding Denali), although mostly unnamed.

South America

In South America, there are two main ice fields, Campo de Hielo Norte (translates to Northern Ice Field or Northern Patagonian Ice Field) and Campo de Hielo Sur (translates to Southern Ice Field or Southern Patagonian Ice Field), both in Chile (although there are parts of the Southern Ice Field in Argentina). There is also a small ice field on the western (Chilean) portion of Tierra del Fuego proper.

See also

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