drift

drift, deposit of mixed clay, gravel, sand, and boulders transported and laid down by glaciers. Stratified, or glaciofluvial, drift is carried by waters flowing from the melting ice of a glacier. The flowing water sorts the particles, generally depositing layers of coarser particles nearer the point of origin. Till, or boulder clay, which makes up the greater part of the drift, is unstratified, consisting of disorganized heaps of rocks that range widely in size. Till is deposited directly by the glacier itself without water transport. The drift may take the form of a drumlin, a kame, an esker, a moraine, or an outwash plain; its thickness varies noticeably from place to place and is not dependent upon topographical factors. Presence of drift proved useful in establishing the existence of time periods when large parts of the surface of continents were covered with glaciers (see glacial periods). Large sections of continental Europe and North America are covered by drift.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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