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Cirque on Continental Divide, Northern Rockies

Cirque on Continental Divide, Northern Rockies
Cirque on Continental Divide

Cirque on Continental Divide

As of 2008, Glacier National Park contained 27 cirque glaciers. In 1850, 150 of them cooled its mountaintops. They primarily resulted from the Little Ice Age (between 150 and 500 years ago [Biek et al. 2010:3]), and had receded dramatically since that time. The loss since 1900 is larger than any other mountain region within the contiguous United States (Reardon et al. 2008:1).

Depicted above is a cirque, which once held a glacier. Its large, round, basin sloughs below the two peaks in the center of the photograph, in the background.  It contains a forest in its lower half. Its upper half is greener than the surrounding mountain slope.

It is called a cirque because of its circular shape. Often, when the glacier melts, it leaves a lake inside. These bodies of water are called cirque lakes. There appears to be no lake in this depression. However, the dense forest at the base and comparative green color indicate that more water accumulated here than in the surrounding area.


Biek, Bob, Grant Willis, and Buck Ehler
2010 Utah Glacial Geology. Utah Geological Survey: Survey Notes 42(3):1-4. Electronic document,, accessed June 13, 2008.

Reardon, B.A., J.T. Harper, D.B. Fagre

2008   Mass Balance of a Cirque Glacier in the U.S. Rocky Mountains. In Proceedings of the Mass Balance Measurement and Modelling Workshop, Skeikampen, Norway, 26-28 March 2008. Electronic document,, accessed June 13, 2011.

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Cirque on Continental Divide by Shari Maria Silverman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

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