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Portage Glacier in Alaska

...Glaciology. We talk about ice all day.

This spring I am taking Glaciology (EARS 70) to complete the math and natural science elective requirements for my Bachelor of Engineering (BE). I fulfilled the first two of three requirements with Ecology (BIOL 16) freshman year and Statistical Methods in Engineering (ENGS 93) this past fall. I chose Glaciology for my third class mostly because it was one of the few courses offered this spring term that counted for the BE. However, I was also excited to learn more about glaciers after I saw Portage Glacier (pictured above) during a recent visit to Alaska. I am glad my schedule had me consider the course because I have been enjoying Glaciology a lot so far.

Glaciology Textbook
Our Glaciology textbook.

About 35 people tune into class Zoom sessions every Tuesday and Thursday to ask questions to and chat with Professor Robert Hawley. These sessions are optional, as the class is set up in a "flipped" format, meaning students watch pre-recorded lectures outside of class and in-class time is spent discussing material. I find it fun to have class with Earth Science majors instead of my usual engineering crowd. A number of these people walked on the Athabasca Glacier on the Stretch, an awesome Earth Sciences off-campus program that takes students all over western North America. Because of this, the Athabasca Glacier has been a popular Zoom background.

Glacier in Alaska
More Alaskan glaciers.

In the first few weeks of the class we learned about types of glaciers, mass balance and temperature profiles within glaciers, as well as the molecular structure of ice and molecular defects. More recently we have focused on the rheology of ice (deformation behaviors because of applied stress), as well as densification, which is the transformation of snow into ice.

My engineering background has come in handy for a few of these topics. When we looked at temperature profiles in glaciers, we used the heat equation, which I just derived this past winter term for Distributed Systems and Fields (ENGS 23). During an in-class discussion about the molecular structure of ice, I was able to use my knowledge of Bravais lattice types from Science of Materials (ENGS 24) to determine the unit cell shape for ice I-h.

Glaciology work
Pictured here are a recent homework on the unit cell of ice and notes on different ice types.

Overlap of course material is part of the fun of a liberal arts education. When you take classes over a wide range of disciplines, you get to see how subjects relate. Hopefully over the next few weeks of the class I will interact with even more engineering content! But first, I need study for the midterm we have in a few days. Wish me luck!

For more information on the Earth Sciences Department, check out their website here

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