Crossing a crevasse on the Easton Glacier, Mount Baker, in the North Cascades, Washington

A crevasse is a deep crack in an ice sheet rhys glacier (as opposed to a crevice, which forms in rock). Crevasses form as a result of the movement and resulting stress associated with the sheer stress generated when two semi-rigid pieces above a plastic substrate have different rates of movement. The resulting intensity of the shear stress causes a breakage along the faces.

Crevasses often have vertical or near-vertical walls, which can then melt and create seracs, arches, and other ice formations. These walls sometimes expose layers that represent the glacier's stratigraphy.

Crevasses are more narrow at depth as it is here that pieces of the glacier may rub and break against each other. Crevasse size often depends upon the amount of liquid water present in the glacier. A crevasse may be as deep as 45 metres, as wide as 20 metres, and can be up to several hundred metres long.

The presence of water in a crevasse can significantly increase its penetration. Water-filled crevasses may reach the bottom of glaciers or ice sheets and provide a direct hydrologic connection between the surface, where significant summer melting occurs, and the bed of the glacier, where additional water may lubricate the bed and accelerate ice flow.


Transverse crevasses are the most common crevasse type and they form in a zone of extension where the central part of the glacier is moving faster down-slope than the outer edges of the glacier, creating tensile stress. These crevasses stretch across the glacier transverse to the flow direction. They generally form where a valley becomes steeper.

Marginal crevasses extend downward from the edge of the glacier pointing upglacier. These crevasses form because of the higher speeds of the glacier near its centreline relative to its margin.

Longitudinal crevasses form parallel to flow where the glacier width s expanding. They develop in areas of compressive stress, such as where a valley widens.

A bergschrund is a crevasse that divides moving glacier ice below the bergschrund from the stagnant ice above it and may extend to bedrock below.

An Ice Pinnacle is formed when multiple crevasses intersect at the end of a glacier.

A crevasse may be covered, but not necessarily filled, by a snow bridge made of the previous year's snow. The result is that crevasses are rendered invisible and thus lethal to anyone attempting to navigate their way across a glacier. Anyone planning to travel on a glacier should be trained in crevasse rescue.

Crevasse on the Gorner Glacier, Zermatt, Switzerland  
Measuring snowpack in a crevasse on the Easton Glacier, Mount Baker, North Cascades, U.S.  
Exploring the bottom of a crevasse in Antarctica  
Crevasse on the Ross Ice Shelf, January 2001  
Crevasses on the Upper Price Glacier of Mt. Shuksan, North Cascades, WA. Photo taken August 2011
Split-boarder skinning up past open crevasses on the Coleman Glacier of Mt. Baker. Photo taken October 2009
Looking down into a crevasse on Mt. Rainier, Cascade range, WA. Photo taken Mid August 2009
Crevasses on Mt. Rainier. Photo taken from the Disappointment Cleaver Route on Mt. Rainer. Photo taken August 2009
Mountaineers crossing a crevasse on Mt. Rainer. Photo taken August 2009
Ladder bridging a crevasse on Mt. Rainier. Photo taken Aug. 2009
Looking down on crevasses on the Hanging Glacier of Mt. Shuksan. Photo taken from Summit August 2011

See also


  • Paterson, W.S.B., 1994, The Physics of Glaciers, 3rd edition, ISBN 0750647426.
  • Boon, S., M.J. Sharp, 2003, The role of hydrologically-driven ice fracture in drainage system evolution on an Arctic glacier, Geophysical Research Letters, 30, pp. 1916.
  • Das, S.B., I. Joughin, M.D. Behn, I.M. Howat, M.A. King, D. Lizarralde, M.P. Bhatia, 2008, Fracture propagation to the base of the Greenland Ice Sheet during supraglacial lake drainage, Science, 320, pp. 778.
  • van der Veen, C.J., 1998, Fracture mechanics approach to penetration of surface crevasses on glaciers, Cold Regions Science and Technology, 27, pp. 31-47.
  • Zwally, H.J., W. Abdalati, T. Herring, K. Larson, J. Saba, K. Steffen, 2002, Surface melt-induced acceleration of Greenland ice-sheet flow, Science, 297, pp. 218-222.
  • Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills, 5th edition. ISBN 0-89886-309-0.
  • "crevasse." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 17 Oct. 2010.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • crevasse — [ krəvas ] n. f. • v. 1150; lat. pop. °crepacia; de crepare → crever 1 ♦ Fente profonde à la surface d une chose. ⇒ fente, fissure. Crevasse d un mur. ⇒ lézarde. Crevasse dans le sol. ⇒ anfractuosité, cassure, craquelure, 2. faille. « La terre… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • crevassé — crevassé, ée (kre va sé, sée) part. passé. Un vieux mur tout crevassé …   Dictionnaire de la Langue Française d'Émile Littré

  • crevasse — CREVASSE. s. f. Fente qui se fait à une chose qui s entr ouvre ou qui se crève. Il y avoit une crevasse à la muraille. La grande sécheresse fait des crevasses à la terre. Avoir des crevasses aux pieds, aux mains. Il n est guère d usage que dans… …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie Française 1798

  • crevasse — 1823, of glaciers; 1814, of riverbanks (from Louisiana Fr.), from Fr. crevasse, from O.Fr. crevace crevice (see CREVICE (Cf. crevice)). Essentially the same word as crevice, but re adopted in senses for which the meaning that had taken hold in… …   Etymology dictionary

  • crevasse — crevasse, crevice are both derived from a Latin root crepare meaning ‘to break with a crash’. A crevasse is a deep open crack or fissure in a glacier; in AmE it is also used to mean a breach in a river embankment. A crevice is a narrow cleft or… …   Modern English usage

  • crevasse — Crevasse. s. f. La fente qui se fait à une chose qui creve. Il y avoit une crevasse à la muraille. la grande secheresse fait des crevasses à la terre. avoir des crevasses aux pieds, des crevasses aux mains. Il n a guere d usage que dans ces… …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie française

  • crevasse — [krə vas′] n. [Fr < OFr crevace,CREVICE] 1. a deep crack or fissure, esp. in a glacier ☆ 2. a break in the levee of a river, dike, etc. vt. crevassed, crevassing to make a crevasse or crevasses in …   English World dictionary

  • Crevasse — Cre vasse (kr? v?s ), n. [F. See {Crevice}.] 1. A deep crevice or fissure, as in embankment; one of the clefts or fissure by which the mass of a glacier is divided. [1913 Webster] 2. A breach in the levee or embankment of a river, caused by the… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Crevasse — (franz., spr. kröwáß), Riß, Spalte, besonders Gletscherspalte …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • crevasse — *crack, cleft, fissure, crevice, cranny, chink Analogous words: chasm, *gulf: *breach, split, rent, rift …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

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