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Glacier vs. Iceberg: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on November 12, 2023
A glacier is a large, persistent mass of ice that moves; an iceberg is a chunk of ice that has broken off from glaciers or ice shelves and floats in open water.

Key Differences

Both a glacier and an iceberg consist of compacted snow turned to ice. However, a glacier is characterized by its immense size and its movement over time, usually found on land. It behaves like a slow-moving river of ice, flowing and carving its way through valleys and mountains. The genesis of glaciers is often from the accumulation of snow over many years, which compresses into thickened ice masses. On the other hand, an iceberg represents a floating mass of ice that has broken away or calved from the edge of a glacier or an ice shelf.
Glaciers are vital indicators of climate change and are distributed widely from the Arctic and Antarctic regions to mountain ranges around the world. They have the potential to reshape landscapes through their movement, eroding the land beneath them. Conversely, icebergs are mainly found in polar regions, specifically in the waters surrounding Antarctica and the North Atlantic near Greenland. Once an iceberg breaks away, it becomes a distinct entity, floating and drifting in the oceans.
The term glacier often brings to mind vast frozen expanses, crucial for freshwater storage. As they melt, they contribute to rising sea levels, playing a pivotal role in global climate dynamics. Icebergs, while also influential, are best known for their transient nature and potential hazards to shipping. Notably, only a small portion of an iceberg is visible above the water's surface, with the majority submerged, leading to the adage "tip of the iceberg."
In essence, while both glacier and iceberg are manifestations of Earth's cryosphere, they exist in different states and settings. The former is a persistent, moving ice body on land, and the latter is a free-floating ice mass on water.

Comparison Chart


Persistent ice mass on land
Floating ice mass in water


Accumulation and compression of snow
Breaks off glaciers or ice shelves


Found on continents and mountain ranges
Polar regions, oceans surrounding Antarctica & Greenland


Entirely visible
Mostly submerged, only a portion visible above water


Reshapes landscapes, indicates climate change
Potential hazard to shipping

Glacier and Iceberg Definitions


A large, slow-moving mass of ice.
The glacier carved its way through the valley over centuries.


A drifting mountain of ice separated from a polar glacier.
The captain maneuvered the ship carefully to avoid the lurking iceberg.


Accumulated ice formed from the compression of snow over time.
The retreat of the glacier over the years has become evident due to global warming.


A large piece of freshwater ice that has broken off and floats in seawater.
The iceberg was a magnificent sight with its blueish hue.


A river of ice flowing from an ice cap or ice sheet.
The glacier's movement can be compared to a slow river of ice.


A free-floating ice form, originating mainly from polar regions.
The crew spotted an iceberg in the distance, shimmering under the sun.


A persistent body of dense ice constantly moving under its weight.
The Alps are home to some of the most impressive glaciers in the world.


A floating mass of ice detached from a glacier or ice shelf.
The Titanic tragically collided with an iceberg during its maiden voyage.


An ice mass that can originate from mountain ranges or polar regions.
The glacier provides a freshwater source for nearby communities.


Ice that protrudes above the water but has a larger hidden mass below the surface.
The visible part of the iceberg is only a fraction of its entire size.


A huge mass of ice slowly flowing over a landmass, formed from compacted snow in an area where snow accumulation has exceeded melting and sublimation.


A massive floating body of ice broken away from a glacier. Only about 10 percent of its mass is above the surface of the water.


(geology) A large body of ice which flows under its own mass, usually downhill.
They warned that the effects of glacier melting on water resources are becoming “increasingly serious” for China.


(Informal) A cold, aloof person.


An immense field or stream of ice, formed in the region of perpetual snow, and moving slowly down a mountain slope or valley, as in the Alps, or over an extended area, as in Greenland.


(obsolete) The seaward end of a glacier. 19


A slowly moving mass of ice


A huge mass of ocean-floating ice which has broken off a glacier or ice shelf 19
The Titanic hit an iceberg and sank.


An aloof person. 19


An impending disastrous event whose adverse effects are only beginning to show, in reference to one-tenth of the volume of an iceberg being visible above water.


A large mass of ice, generally floating in the ocean.


A large mass of ice floating at sea; usually broken off of a polar glacier


Lettuce with crisp tightly packed light-green leaves in a firm head;
Iceberg is still the most popular lettuce


Why do we only see a small part of an iceberg above water?

Because about 90% of an iceberg's mass is below the water's surface.

Are glaciers stationary?

No, glaciers move slowly over time.

Are all icebergs formed from glaciers?

Most icebergs are formed from glaciers, but some break off ice shelves.

Can glaciers be found outside polar regions?

Yes, glaciers can be found on mountain ranges worldwide.

Are glaciers responsible for sea level rise?

Yes, melting glaciers contribute significantly to rising sea levels.

Can icebergs be a threat to ships?

Yes, icebergs pose a navigation hazard to ships, especially in polar waters.

How long can a glacier exist?

Glaciers can exist for many thousands of years.

How do glaciers impact landscapes?

Glaciers can reshape landscapes through erosion and deposition.

Which is larger, a glacier or an iceberg?

Typically, a glacier is much larger, but icebergs can also be massive.

Why are some icebergs blue?

The blue color in icebergs is due to the absorption and scattering of light in the ice.

Do icebergs contribute to ocean salinity?

As freshwater icebergs melt, they can dilute the surrounding saltwater.

Can you walk on a glacier?

Yes, but it requires special equipment and precautions due to crevasses and unstable areas.

Are icebergs made of saltwater?

No, icebergs are made of freshwater.

Why do icebergs float?

Icebergs float because ice is less dense than seawater.

Can glaciers be found in the U.S.?

Yes, for example, Alaska has numerous glaciers.

How long does it take for an iceberg to melt?

It varies, but some icebergs can last for years, while others melt within weeks.

Do both glaciers and icebergs play a role in climate studies?

Yes, both are studied to understand climate change and its impacts.

How do glaciers form?

Glaciers form from the accumulation and compaction of snow over time.

Where are the majority of the world's icebergs located?

The majority are found around Antarctica and in the North Atlantic near Greenland.

What causes a glacier to retreat?

A combination of melting, sublimation, and calving can cause a glacier to retreat.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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