Proglacial lake

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A proglacial lake is impounded by the terminal moraine of the retreating Schoolroom Glacier in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, USA.

In geology, a proglacial lake is a lake formed either by the damming action of a moraine or ice dam during the retreat of a melting glacier, or by meltwater trapped against an ice sheet due to isostatic depression of the crust around the ice. At the end of the last ice age approximately 10,000 years ago, large proglacial lakes were a widespread feature in the northern hemisphere.

Proglacial Lakes of the North American Great Lakes (USGS 1915)

In some cases, such lakes gradually evaporated during the warming period after the Quaternary ice age. In other cases, such as Glacial Lake Missoula and Glacial Lake Wisconsin in the United States, the sudden rupturing of the supporting dam caused glacial lake outburst floods, the rapid and catastrophic release of dammed water resulting in the formation of gorges and other structures downstream from the former lake. Good examples of these structures can be found in the Channeled Scablands of eastern Washington, an area heavily eroded by the Missoula Floods.[1]

In Great Britain, Lake Lapworth, Lake Harrison and Lake Pickering were examples of proglacial lakes. Ironbridge Gorge and Hubbard's Hills are examples of a glacial overspill channel created when the water of a proglacial lake rose high enough to breach the lowest point in the containing watershed.

The receding glaciers of the tropical Andes have formed a number of proglacial lakes, especially in the Cordillera Blanca of Peru, where 70% of all tropical glaciers are. Several such lakes have formed rapidly during the 20th century. These lakes may burst, creating a hazard for zones below. Many natural dams (usually moraines) containing the lake water have been reinforced with safety dams. Some 34 such dams have been built in the Cordillera Blanca to contain proglacial lakes.

Several proglacial lakes have also formed in recent decades at the end of glaciers on the eastern side of New Zealand's Southern Alps. The most accessible, Lake Tasman, hosts boat trips for tourists.

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