Textbook glacial erosion

One of the most diagnostic features of a glacial landscape, once the ice is long gone, is glacial erosion. There are several kinds of glacial erosion, including abrasion, plucking and freeze-thaw. Abrasion affects the floor of tiny mountain glaciers right through to the surface of virtually an entire continent, such as Antarctica, making it one of the dominant geomorphic forces on Earth.

At the small end of the scale I recently visited the Isle of Skye on a Quaternary Research Association field trip. One of the most impressive sites of glacial erosion in Scotland lies on the floor of a glacial cirque, Coire Lagan, beneath the peak of Sgùrr Dearg (986 m) in the Cuillin Hills. On the lip of a small loch is a spectacular landscape of glacial erosion, carved as the small glacier eroded the bowl of the cirque. The 3D model above is of an unusual spur 4-5 metres long on the surface of an otherwise smooth and striated surface. It is very difficult to photograph a feature like this in 2 dimensions because of the lack of contrast with the background. Also on the field trip was Professor David Evans, author of the excellent text Glaciers and glaciation. The book is a traditional text, printed on paper, although a scanned version is now available electronically. As traditional books become less relevant, the future lies in interactive texts which are less structured and more searchable and interconnected by hyperlinks. In these texts, maps will be linked into geographic information systems and diagrams will become more dynamic with animation and clickable enquiry. I suggested to David that the future of texts would also see supplementation of traditional photos with interactive 3D models such as the glacial erosion we were photographing. Soon students will be able to explore far flung parts of the world through their textbook, not only through photography but through interactive imagery and virtual reality.

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