Modeling Glacier Erosion Through Time

Cathy Connor
University Alaska Southeast
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This lab could be adapted for an introductory geology course, upper division geomorphology course, or a climate change course. This activity is borrowed from John Harbor's paper in the Journal of Geoscience Education 1995 and adapted for new research since that time.

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Undergraduate introductory geology or physical geography course

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Use of excel spreadsheet, algebra, and ability to read a cross sectional diagram.

How the activity is situated in the course

This activity is used as a lab to develop student understanding of glacier erosional processes. I use it about week two of my upper-division Glaciation and Climate Change course.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

To understand the erosive forces related to ice velocity and thickness as applied by glacier ice to the sediment and bedrock over which it flows.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

How these erosive forces, applied over time, change V-shaped stream valleys into U-shaped glacier valleys.

Other skills goals for this activity

Measurements to generate data, data analysis, data interpretation, setting up equations in Excel to analyze data in batches.

Description of the activity/assignment

Prior to this lab, students will have read and learned about valley glacier processes, glacier mass balance, warm-based and cold-based glaciers, and can identify various glacier landforms formed by erosion. They will also have had an introductory lecture on ice physics, but that is not necessary to complete this activity.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Students will generate three new glacier cross-sections based on the results of their modeling data. They will also respond to questions about these model results. I will evaluate this work as part of their weekly lab assignments.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

Chapters 5 and 6 in Bennet and Glasser, 2003, Glacial Geology Ice Sheets and Landforms, published by John Wiley & Sons
Jonathan M. Harbor, 1992, Numerical modeling of the development of U-shaped valleys by glacial erosion by Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 104, n. 10, p. 1364-1375
Fabel, Derek ; Harbor, Jon; Dahms, Dennis; James, Allan; Elmore, David; Horn, Linda; Daley, Kelly; Steele, Charles, 2004, Spatial patterns of glacial erosion at a valley scale derived from terrestrial cosmogenic (super 10) Be and (super 26) Al concentrations in rock. In: Annals of the Association of American Geographers v. 94, n. 2 (200406) p. 241-255
Harbor and Keattch 1995, An undergraduate exercise introducing form development in glacial geomorphology. Journal of Geoscience Education v. 43, p. 529-533