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Ecological System Comprehensive Report: Record 1 of 1 selected. View Glossary
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Scientific Name: North American Glacier and Ice Field
Unique Identifier: CES100.728
Classification Confidence: 1 - Strong

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Summary: This widespread ecological system is composed of unvegetated landscapes of annual/perennial ice and snow in the North American arctic, and south into the highest elevations of the Rocky Mountains, Pacific coastal ranges, and the Sierra Madre of Mexico. They occur where snowfall accumulation exceeds melting. The primary ecological processes include snow/ice retention, wind desiccation, and permafrost. The snowpack/ice field never melts or, if so, then for only a few weeks. In places the ice fields are extensive, covering huge areas, while in the alpine, ice fields are part of the alpine mosaic consisting of alpine bedrock and scree, tundra dry meadow, wet meadow, fell-fields, and dwarf-shrubland. There are no vascular plants occurring in this system; biotic composition may include algal blooms, insect communities, and birds or mammals foraging on the insects.

Classification Approach: International Terrestrial Ecological Systems Classification (ITESC)

Classification Comments: The barren rock and rubble within the glaciers is part of this system, not the alpine rock and scree systems.


Land Cover Class: Barren
Spatial Pattern: Large patch
Natural/Seminatural: No
Vegetated ( > 10% vascular cover):
Upland: Yes
Wetland: No
Isolated Wetland: No

Diagnostic Classifiers
Primary Classifier Secondary Classifier
Alpine/AltiAndino Alpine/AltiAndino
Ice Fields / Glaciers  
Alpine Slopes  

Non-diagnostic Classifiers
Primary Classifier Secondary Classifier
Mediterranean Mediterranean Xeric-Continental
Temperate Temperate Continental

Color legend for Distribution Map
Nation: United States
United States Distribution: AK, CO, ID, MT, OR, WA, WY
Nation: Canada
Canadian Province Distribution: AB, BC, MB, NT, ON, QC, YT
Distribution Outside Canada and the United States: Mexico
Global Range: This ecological system is found throughout North America where high latitude or altitude results in permanent ice and snow fields, from the arctic and boreal regions south into the mountains of Alaska south and east through the cordillera of the Cascades and the Rocky Mountains. It also occurs in the alpine areas of the Sierra Madre in Mexico.

Biogeographic Divisions
Division Code and Name Primary Occurrence Status
101-Ice Cap C: Confident or certain
102-Arctic C: Confident or certain
103-Boreal C: Confident or certain
104-Montane Arctic C: Confident or certain
105-Montane Boreal C: Confident or certain
204-North American Pacific Maritime C: Confident or certain
207-North American Pacific Warm Continental C: Confident or certain
305-Sierra Madre C: Confident or certain
306-Rocky Mountain C: Confident or certain

The Nature Conservancy's Conservation Ecoregions
Code Name Occurrence Status
20 Southern Rocky Mountains Confident or certain
3 North Cascades Confident or certain
69 S.E. Alaska - B.C. Coastal Forest and Mountains Confident or certain
7 Canadian Rocky Mountains Confident or certain
70 Gulf of Alaska Mountains and Fjordlands Confident or certain
71 Cook Inlet Basin Predicted or probable
76 Alaska Range Confident or certain
77 Interior Alaska Taiga Predicted or probable
78 Yukon Plateau and Flats Confident or certain
79 Alaska-Yukon Arctic Confident or certain
9 Utah-Wyoming Rocky Mountains Confident or certain

MRLC 2000 Mapzones
Code Name Occurrence Status
1 Northern Cascades Confident or certain
2 Oregon Coastal Range Possible
3 Northern California Coastal Range Confident or certain
7 Cascade Mountain Range Confident or certain
9 Blue Mountain Region Predicted or probable
10 Northwestern Rocky Mountains Confident or certain
16 Utah High Plateaus Confident or certain
19 Northern Rocky Mountains Confident or certain
21 Middle Rocky Mountains Confident or certain
28 Southern Rocky Mountains Confident or certain
29 Wyoming Highlands Possible
67 North Slope Confident or certain
68 Northwest Alaska Confident or certain
69 Brooks Range Confident or certain
70 Upper Yukon Confident or certain
71 Koyukuk Confident or certain
72 Yukon Delta Confident or certain
73 Lower Yukon Confident or certain
74 Tanana Confident or certain
75 Cook Inlet Confident or certain
76 Southwest Alaska Confident or certain
77 Prince William Confident or certain
78 Southeast Alaska Confident or certain

National Mapping
ESLF Code (Ecological System Lifeform): 3130
ESP Code (Environmental Site Potential): 1735
EVT Code (Existing Vegetation Type): 2735

West Landfire Legend: Yes
East Landfire Legend: No

Element Description Edition Date: 22Aug2008
Element Description Author(s): M.S. Reid

Ecological data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs) and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

  • Comer, P., D. Faber-Langendoen, R. Evans, S. Gawler, C. Josse, G. Kittel, S. Menard, C. Nordman, M. Pyne, M. Reid, M. Russo, K. Schulz, K. Snow, J. Teague, and R. White. 2003-present. Ecological systems of the United States: A working classification of U.S. terrestrial systems. NatureServe, Arlington, VA.

  • Meidinger, D., and J. Pojar, editors. 1991. Ecosystems of British Columbia. British Columbia Ministry of Forests Special Report Series No. 6. Victoria, BC. 330 pp.

  • Neely, B., P. Comer, C. Moritz, M. Lammerts, R. Rondeau, C. Prague, G. Bell, H. Copeland, J. Humke, S. Spakeman, T. Schulz, D. Theobald, and L. Valutis. 2001. Southern Rocky Mountains: An ecoregional assessment and conservation blueprint. Prepared by The Nature Conservancy with support from the U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region, Colorado Division of Wildlife, and Bureau of Land Management.

  • WNHP [Washington Natural Heritage Program]. 2018. Unpublished data files. Washington Natural Heritage Program, Department of Natural Resources, Olympia, WA.

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Note: All species and ecological community data presented in NatureServe Explorer at were updated to be current with NatureServe's central databases as of March 2019.
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Citation for data on website including State Distribution, Watershed, and Reptile Range maps:
NatureServe. 2019. NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life [web application]. Version 7.1. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. Available (Accessed:

Citation for Bird Range Maps of North America:
Ridgely, R.S., T.F. Allnutt, T. Brooks, D.K. McNicol, D.W. Mehlman, B.E. Young, and J.R. Zook. 2003. Digital Distribution Maps of the Birds of the Western Hemisphere, version 1.0. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia, USA.

Acknowledgement Statement for Bird Range Maps of North America:
"Data provided by NatureServe in collaboration with Robert Ridgely, James Zook, The Nature Conservancy - Migratory Bird Program, Conservation International - CABS, World Wildlife Fund - US, and Environment Canada - WILDSPACE."

Citation for Mammal Range Maps of North America:
Patterson, B.D., G. Ceballos, W. Sechrest, M.F. Tognelli, T. Brooks, L. Luna, P. Ortega, I. Salazar, and B.E. Young. 2003. Digital Distribution Maps of the Mammals of the Western Hemisphere, version 1.0. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia, USA.

Acknowledgement Statement for Mammal Range Maps of North America:
"Data provided by NatureServe in collaboration with Bruce Patterson, Wes Sechrest, Marcelo Tognelli, Gerardo Ceballos, The Nature Conservancy-Migratory Bird Program, Conservation International-CABS, World Wildlife Fund-US, and Environment Canada-WILDSPACE."

Citation for Amphibian Range Maps of the Western Hemisphere:
IUCN, Conservation International, and NatureServe. 2004. Global Amphibian Assessment. IUCN, Conservation International, and NatureServe, Washington, DC and Arlington, Virginia, USA.

Acknowledgement Statement for Amphibian Range Maps of the Western Hemisphere:
"Data developed as part of the Global Amphibian Assessment and provided by IUCN-World Conservation Union, Conservation International and NatureServe."

NOTE: Full metadata for the Bird Range Maps of North America is available at:

Full metadata for the Mammal Range Maps of North America is available at:

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Copyright 2019
Version 7.1 (2 February 2009)
Data last updated: March 2019