External forces of earth include different agents which create different landforms in different enviroments by erosion and desposition.
Despite our tendency to consider Earth as static, it is actually a dynamic and ever-changing planet. Wind, water, and ice erode and shape the land. Volcanic activity and earthquakes alter the landscape in a dramatic and often violent manner. And on a much longer timescale, the movement of earth’s plates slowly reconfigures oceans and continents.
Each one of these processes plays a role in the Arctic and Antarctica. We’ll discuss each in general and specifically in the polar regions.
Wind, water, and ice are the three agents of erosion, or the carrying away of rock, sediment, and soil. Erosion is distinguished from weathering — the physical or chemical breakdown of the minerals in rock. However, weathering and erosion can happen simultaneously. Erosion is a natural process, though it is often increased by humans’ use of the land. Deforestation, overgrazing, construction, and road building often expose soil and sediments and lead to increased erosion. Excessive erosion leads to loss of soil, ecosystem damage, and a buildup of sediments in water sources. Building terraces and planting trees can help reduce erosion.
In the Arctic and sub-Arctic, glacial erosion has shaped much of the landscape. Glaciers primarily erode through plucking and abrasion. Plucking occurs as a glacier flows over bedrock, softening and lifting blocks of rock that are brought into the ice. The intense pressure at the base of the glacier causes some of the ice to melt, forming a thin layer of subglacial water. This water flows into cracks in the bedrock. As the water refreezes, the ice acts as a lever loosening the rock by lifting it. The fractured rock is thus incorporated into the glacier’s load and is carried along as the glacier slowly moves.
Abrasion happens when the glacier’s ice and rock fragments act as sandpaper, crushing the rock into finely grained rock flour and smoothing the rock below. Meltwater streams of many glaciers are grayish in color due to high amounts of rock flour.