Glacial Isostatic Adjustment

Aida Awad
Maine East High School
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The activity begins with a hands-on lab students design to consider the relationship between increasing masses loaded on a viscous medium. Students then investigate the Antarctic ice sheet and Pleistocene glacial maximums using ArcGIS Explorer. The activity is wrapped up by considering glacial isostatic adjustment of rebound centers in Canada over the past 6000 years. Throughout the activity, students are coached to practice their scientific writing skills with through a series of guiding questions.

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This activity is designed for use in an introductory level physical geology course for majors or non-majors.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

  • Students must be familiar with ArcGIS Explorer.
  • Students must be able to read simple topographic maps.

How the activity is situated in the course

The activity is used during the introduction to climate change.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Learning objectives include:
  • Understand that there have been multiple instances when ice ages have occurred in Earth's past.
  • Explain the relationship between the thickness of ice covering a land surface and the amount of depression of that surface.
  • Explain the relationship between the thickness of the ice covering a land surface and the amount of glacial isostatic rebound likely.
  • Explain the relationship between the thickness of the ice covering a land surface and the timing of glacial isostatic rebound.
  • Be able to identify the timing of the Pleistocene ice age and the extent of ice coverage in our local region.
  • Compare the area of the Antarctic ice sheet with the ice sheet that covered North America during the Pleistocene.
  • Describe the thickness of the Antarctic ice sheet.
  • Describe the pattern of glacial isostatic adjustment in North America following the retreat of the Pleistocene ice sheet.
  • Describe the relationship between sea level and ice ages.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Students will be required to write discussion sections for each of the three parts of the activity that require synthesis of data and observations. Students will develop visualization skills.

Other skills goals for this activity

  • The activity supports writing skill development.
  • The activity supports basic GIS data handling and collection skills.
  • The activity supports GIS visualization and critical thinking skills.

Description of the activity/assignment

To prepare for this activity students should be familiar with basic vocabulary associated with ice age glaciations. In the case of this course, they should have read the chapter on glaciation in Tarbuck & Lutgens, Earth, 8th edition. Their task begins with designing a hands-on lab to investigate the relationship between depressions in a surface caused by adding mass to a compressible medium such as a sponge. Students then use ArcGIS Explorer to investigate the Antarctic ice sheet and the Pleistocene ice sheet. The activity wraps up with students collecting data related to glacial isostatic adjustment in rebound centers around Canada over the past 6,000 years.

Determining whether students have met the goals

The three discussion sections that students write are graded with a rubric that students are given prior to the activity.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs