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171 River-Ice Hydrology

Part 14. Snow and Glacier Hydrology

  1. Terry D Prowse

Published Online: 15 APR 2006

DOI: 10.1002/0470848944.hsa177

Encyclopedia of Hydrological Sciences

Encyclopedia of Hydrological Sciences

How to Cite

Prowse, T. D. 2006. River-Ice Hydrology. Encyclopedia of Hydrological Sciences. 14:171.

Author Information

  1. University of Victoria, National Water Research Institute of Environment Canada Department of Geography, Victoria, BC, Canada

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 APR 2006


The hydrology of almost 60% of rivers in the Northern Hemisphere is affected by ice for at least a portion of the winter. At the higher latitudes, river ice is the major controller of most fluvial processes. Although traditionally the pursuit of hydraulic engineers, hydrologic studies of river ice have broadened greatly over the last decade. Initially, this was driven by recognition that many hydrologic extremes produced by river ice, such as floods and low flows, exceed those of the more intensively studied, open-water period. Added recognition that river ice strongly influenced other fluvial disciplines, such as geomorphology and aquatic ecology, increased its scientific visibility. This manuscript reviews the basic physics of river ice; evaluates its effect on various hydrologic processes and events from freeze-up to breakup; and discusses its extended role in affecting sediment transport/erosion, river morphology and a number of key ecological processes including geochemical mixing and habitat modification. Arguments are made for increased focus on river-ice hydrology given its significance to physical and ecological processes, and the growing need to understand the effects of climate change and flow regulation on cold regions rivers.


  • river ice;
  • freshwater ice;
  • flood;
  • low flow;
  • freeze-up;
  • breakup;
  • ice jam;
  • aquatic ecology;
  • fluvial geomorphology