Kettles

A kettle pond in Lamar Valley (Yellowstone National Park, WY-MT-ID)
Reflections in a shallow kettle pond in Lamar Valley (Yellowstone National Park). Photo from 1966.

NPS Photo/John Good

As a glacier recedes, sediment is washed out from the glacier and deposited in a flat area below, forming an outwash plain. Depressions, known as kettles, often pockmark these outwash plains and other areas with glacial deposits.

Kettles form when a block of stagnant ice (a serac) detaches from the glacier. Eventually, it becomes wholly or partially buried in sediment and slowly melts, leaving behind a pit. In many cases, water begins fills the depression and forms a pond or lake—a kettle. Kettles can be feet or miles long, but they are usually shallow.

Kettle lakes form in front of the Kennicott Glacier (Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, AK)
New kettle lakes form in front of the Kennicott Glacier as the ice recedes and melts (Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska)

NPS Photo/Jacob W. Frank

To learn more about glaciers, glacier features, and glacial landforms, see the Glaciers & Glacial Landforms Page.

Last updated: February 22, 2018