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A sheet of aufeis in a glacial valley in Mongolia

Aufeis[pronunciation?] (German for "ice on top") is a sheet-like mass of layered ice that forms from successive flows of ground water during freezing temperatures. This form of ice is also called overflow, icings, or the Russian term, naled. According to E. de K. Leffingwell the term was first used in 1859 by A. T. von Middendorff following his observations of the phenomenon in northern Siberia.


Laminations of ice in a sheet of aufeis

Aufeis accumulates during winter along stream and river valleys in arctic and subarctic environments. It forms by upwelling of river water behind ice dams, or by ground-water discharge. The latter mechanism prevails in high-gradient alpine streams as they freeze solid. Ground-water discharge is blocked by ice, perturbing the steady-state condition and causing a small incremental rise in the local water table until discharge occurs along the bank and over the top of the previously formed ice. Successive ice layers can lead to aufeis accumulations that are several meters thick. Aufeis typically melts out during summer and will often form in the same place year after year.[1]


Backpackers cross a sheet of aufeis in the Anaktuvuk River Valley of Alaska

Sheets of aufeis may block stream channels and cause their flood plains to widen as spring floodwaters are forced to flow around the ice.[2] Research on aufeis has to a large extent been motivated by the variety of engineering problems the ice sheets can cause (e.g. blocking drainages and causing flooding of roads).[3] Culverts and pipelines can actually help to block flow and lead to the development of more extensive aufeis.[4]

Aufeis can present an extreme danger to recreational boaters even during summer months, who can find themselves trapped between walls of ice or pulled under aufeis by the current of the river. Breaking dams of aufeis can also cause flash floods downriver.[5] Proper scouting and precautions when choosing campsites can minimize these risks.

City cooling[edit]

In late 2011, Mongolia will test the use and storage of artificial naleds as a way of cooling Ulan Bator in the hot Mongolian summer, and reducing the use of energy-intensive air conditioning.[6]


Sheets of aufeis have been observed in Alaska,[7][8] Arctic Canada,[9][10][11][12] Russia,[13][14] and Mongolia.[15][16]


  1. ^ Hu and Pollard
  2. ^ Harden
  3. ^ Kane
  4. ^ Williams and Smith
  5. ^ "Dangers of Aufeis on Alaskan Rivers". Retrieved 21 November 2013. 
  6. ^ Mongolia bids to keep city cool with 'ice shield' experiment, Guardian, retrieved 15/11/2011
  7. ^ Harden
  8. ^ Kane
  9. ^ Veillette and Thomas
  10. ^ Reedyk
  11. ^ Clark and Lauriol
  12. ^ Priesnitz and Schunke
  13. ^ Alekseev and Savko
  14. ^ Sokolov
  15. ^ Froelich
  16. ^ Swanson-Hysell and Dandar


  • Alekseev, V., Savko, N., 1975, The theory of naled processes: Nayka, p. 1-205.
  • Clark, I., and Lauriol, B., 1997, Aufeis of the Firth River basin, northern Yukon Canada: Insights into permafrost hydrogeology and karst: Arctic and Alpine Research, v. 29, no. 29, p. 240-252.
  • Froehlich, W., and Slupik, J., 1982, River icings and fluvial activity in extreme continental climate: Khangai Mountains, Mongolia: Proceedings, 4th Canadian Permafrost Conference, p. 203-211.
  • Harden, D., Barnes, P., and Reimnitz, E., 1977, Distribution and character of naleds in northeastern Alaska: Arctic, v. 30, no. 1, p. 28-40.
  • Hu, X., and Pollard, W., 1997, The hydrologic analysis and modeling of river icing growth, North Fork Pass, Yukon Territory, Canada: Permafrost and Periglacial Processes, v. 8, p. 279-294.
  • Kane, D., 1981, Physical mechanics of aufeis growth: Canadian Geotechnical Journal, v. 8, no. 2, p. 186-195.
  • Priesnitz, K., and Schunke, E., 2002, The fluvial morphodynamics of two small permafrost drainage basins, northwestern Canada: Permafrost and Periglacial Processes, v. 13, no. 3, p. 207-217.
  • Reedyk, S., Woo, M., and Prowse, T., 1995, Contribution of icing ablation to streamflow in a discontinuous permafrost area: Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, v. 32, no. 1, p. 13-20.
  • Sokolov, B. L., 1978, Regime of naleds: Permafrost: the USSR contribution to the Second International Conference, National Academy of Sciences, p. 408-411.
  • Swanson-Hysell, N. and Dander, E., 2005. Aufeis in the Kharkhiraa Uul. Eighteenth Annual Keck Research Symposium in Geology Proceedings
  • Veillette, J., and Thomas, R., 1979, Icings and seepage in frozen glacio-fluvial deposits, District of Keewatin, NWT: Canadian Geotechnical Journal, v. 16, no. 4, p. 789-798.
  • Wanty et al., Aufeis Accumulations in Stream Bottoms in Arctic and Subarctic Environments as an Indicator of Geologic Structure
  • Leffingwell, E. de K., 1919, The Canning River region, northern Alaska: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 109, 251 p., 6 sheets, scale 1:125,000.