The total area of the glaciers of Mount Elbrus is 134 km²: it is about 10% of all glaciers in the Northern Caucasus. However, the length of Elbrus glaciers is relatively short: most of them reach 6-9 km, 2 times yielding in this respect to the most important glaciers of the Caucasus (e.g. the glaciers of Dyhsu (13.3 km) and Bezengi (17,6 km).
In total Elbrus feeds 23 glaciers. For example Irik, Kokurtly, Bolshoi Azau and others, which flow through plough wide depressions and valleys. There are also pendulous glaciers, whose tongues drop off with a roar from the rocks, forming ice avalanches (for example Kogutai, Terskol, Gara-Bashi), and the original regenerated glaciers - the largest one is Ullukam. The upper part of this glacier creeps on the edge of the rocky lava barrier, breaks off, falls into small pieces, forming a big ice-fall; a few hundred meters below broken pieces of ice grow together again and continue to move in the direction of the sources of the Kuban river.
Eternal snow on the northern slope of Mount Elbrus starts at a height of 3850m, on the southern slope it start a little lower. Ice thickness of Elbrus is very uneven. It varies depending on the topography, the depth of the valleys through which the ice flows down, conditions of snow accumulation (from tens to hundreds of meters).
Ancient ice flows of Elbrus were longer, they interflowed with the glaciers of neighboring mountains and plowed depressions for future valleys of the rivers of Kuban, Malki and others.
The glaciers descend below the modern snowline. For example, Bolshoi Azau reaches a height of 2 km above sea level. Many glaciers form beautiful glacial caves, from where streams flow from. Tens of kilometers around the glaciers there are huge cone-shaped moraine of boulders, gravel, clay, demolished by the glaciers in the past. There are polished "muttons' foreheads", traces of extinct glacial lakes, remains of huge mud-rock flows - sometimes they demolished forests tracts, overflowed rivers so they turned into lakes. Elbrus ancient glaciers used to reach the modern village of Hurzuk.
The glaciers of Elbrus feed three major rivers that provide water for irrigation systems of Stavropol: Baksan, Malka and Kuban.
The speed of Elbrus glacial displacement does not exceed 25 cm per day, so glaciers do "creep". It will take at least 100 - 200 years for a particle of water that fell somewhere on the top of Elbrus and turned into ice to reach the foot of the mountain. Kukurtlu glacier broke the speed record among all the glaciers of Mount Elbrus - 140 cm per day.
Glaciers are of great natural value: they feed mountain rivers, regulate their stock. 34% of all the water that flows through the bed of the Kuban river every year come from precipitation, 21% - from groundwater and 45% is replenished by alpine snow and ice.
The fact that in the last hundred years the progressive retreat of glaciers associated with climate change has been continuing causes the most serious concern. The area of Elbrus glaciers has declined during this period by 18%, and the area of the ones that flow in the direction of the Kuban river - by 33%. The glaciers retreat unevenly.
Photo by Ilya Melnikov