Physics Photo of the Week

September 4, 2009

Victoria Glacier, Lake Louise, Canada
Lake Louise in Banff National Park, Canada is one of the most picturesque views of nature on the North American continent.  The backdrop of extremely high massive snow-packed cliffs, the narrow, symmetrical V-shaped valley beyond the lake, and the Victoria glacier visible in the upper valley makes easy composition for a novice photographer. 

Lake Louise was created by the Victoria Glacier back in the last ice age abour 10,000 to 20,000 years ago.  We see the still active Victoria Glacier in the center of the photograph.  It doesn't look like many photographic glaciers because it is covered with debris (rocks having fallen onto it along its journey through the valley).  The snowfields half-way up the steep sides of Mount Victoria in the background contribute to the rock debris falling onto the glacier, thus making the ice of the glacier all but invisible.

The close-up image (right) outlines the current terminus for Victoria Glacier.  The photo also shows a lateral moraine on the right side of the photo.  A lateral moraine is a ridge of debris left on the lateral edge of the glacier.  Since the glacier has retreated during the past several thousand years, the lateral moraine is considerably higher than the current glacier.

Another feature of the Rocky Mountain ranges shows clearly in these photos of Lake Louise.  Notice that the rock strata of Mt. Victoria in the background appear to be horizontal.  Wherever we see stratified rock, that indicates that the rocks were at one time formed as sediments at the bottoms of oceans, seas, or lakes.  The sedimentary rocks may be sandstones - sediments that have solidified due to time and pressure.  If the sediments have undergone extreme heat as well as pressure, they form metamorphic rocks.  Metamorphic rocks are much harder as a result of the particles becoming sintered together, similar to the hardening of clay into pottery in a kiln.  The results of the Earth's tectonic plates colliding together has caused one plate to be thrust on top of another plate, thus causing elevated mountains that become easily eroded to form the picturesque glacier-formed lakes and valleys.

Physics Photo of the Week is published weekly during the academic year on Fridays by the Warren Wilson College Physics Department.  These photos feature interesting phenomena in the world around us.  Students, faculty, and others are invited to submit digital (or film) photographs for publication and explanation.  Atmospheric phenomena are especially welcome.  Please send any photos to 

All photos and discussions are copyright by Donald Collins or by the person credited for the photo and/or discussion.  These photos and discussions may be used for private individual use or educational use.  Any commercial use without written permission of the photoprovider is forbidden.

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