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Glacial Retreat

Carol Ormand, Wittenberg University, Teaching Quantitative Skills in the Geosciences, Science Education Resource Center at Carleton College

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In this activity, students use historical data showing the extent of the Grinnell Glacier in Glacier National Park to estimate when the glacier will melt completely. Students use historical imagery showing the extent of the Grinnell Glacier in Glacier National Park at a series of different times to estimate when the glacier will melt completely.

Activity takes one class period.

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Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • Data in the activity goes through 1993, but more recent data is linked from the activity.
  • Imagery from Google Earth could be obtained for up-to-date locations of the glacier.
  • Integrating data from various sources and deriving quantitative data from imagery can add to the skills students will develop in this exercise. Data in the activity goes through 1993, but more recent data is linked from the activity.
  • Also see: Modeled Climate-Induced Glacier Change in Glacier National Park, 1850-2100 http://www.nrmsc.usgs.gov/research/glacier_model.htm
  • Aimed at undergraduates, which is appropriate for this exercise. High school students could benefit as well, and the annotation and documentation in the activity is adequate for this grade level.

About the Science

  • Involves students reading a USGS paper, examining and making measurements from the imagery, and analyzing their numerical results.
  • Students form a hypothesis and then test the hypothesis based on their data collection and calculations.
  • More recent imagery of the Grinnell Glacier has come available since the activity was written and can easily be incorporated into the assignment.

About the Pedagogy

  • A stand-alone activity in which students measure the rate of retreat and gain insights into the process of glacier retreat.
  • This activity can be done in small groups.
  • The investigation includes links to related web resources.
  • The real strength of this activity is that students are actually collecting and processing data - specifically data for the area of the Grinnell Glacier in the time series photographs. While a relatively crude approach in some respects, it nevertheless gets accurate answers from the treatment.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • The activity handout clearly describes the steps needed for the analysis.
  • The USGS paper, map, and supplemental data are all linked from the activity.

Related URLs These related sites were noted by our reviewers but have not been reviewed by CLEAN

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