Snowfield and névé
Miller, Maynard M. Department of Geology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan; Foundation for Glacial and Environmental Research, Seattle, Washington.
- Additional Readings
The term snowfield is usually applied to mountain and glacial regions to refer to an area of snow-covered terrain with definable geographic margins. Where the connotation is very general and without regard to geographical limits, the term snow cover is more appropriate; but glaciology requires more precise terms with respect to snowfield areas. These terms differentiate according to the physical character and age of the snow cover. Technically, a snowfield can embrace only new or old snow (material from the current accumulation year). Anything older is categorized as firn or ice. The word firn is a derivative of the German adjective fern, meaning “of last year,” and hence refers to hardened snow not yet metamorphosed to ice which has been retained from the preceding year or years. Thus, by definition, a snowfield composed of firn can be called a firn field. Another term familiar to glaciologists is névé, from the French word for a mass of hardened snow in a mountain or glacier environment. In English, rather than a specific word for the material itself, a descriptive phrase is used such as: “consolidated granular snow not yet changed to glacier ice.” Because of the need for simple terms, however, it is becoming most acceptable to use the French term névé when specifically referring to a geographical area of snowfields on mountain slopes or glaciers (that is, an area covered with perennial “snow” and embracing the entire zone of annually retained accumulation). For reference to the compacted remnant of the snowpack itself, that is, the material which is retained at the end of an annual melting period on a snowfield or névé, it is appropriate to use the derivative German term firn. See also: Glaciology
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