Glacier Dynamics and Glacial Landforms

Mark Bowen
University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
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Initial Publication Date: November 24, 2014


Students use a computer model to simulate glacier dynamics and navigate to locations in Google Earth to identify glacial landforms and geomorphic processes.

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The activity is used in an online undergraduate introductory physical geography course. The focus of the course is landforms and soils. The course is predominantly composed of non-majors.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered


How the activity is situated in the course

This is a stand-alone exercise that reinforces concepts introduced in lecture.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Become familiar with how glaciers expand and retreat over time and landforms and geomorphic processes associated with glacial landscapes
Understand how environmental conditions affect glacial mass balance
Understand how ice flows within a glacier
Determine how multiple glacial advance-retreat cycles impact landform preservation
Identify alpine and continental glacial landforms on topographic maps and aerial images

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Other skills goals for this activity

Description of the activity/assignment

Students must download and install and simple, free, Java-based computer model to simulate glacial advances and retreats. Students alter temperature and snowfall rates to model how the glacier responds. A variety of tools within the model are used to measure glacier dynamics. In the second part, students visit a variety of locations within Google Earth to identify landforms, determine whether they are erosional or depositional, and answer other related questions.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Students complete the exercise during the week it is assigned. Upon completion of the exercise, students must complete an online quiz that consists of the same questions in the exercise. The online quiz is within the Desire 2 Learn (D2L) online learning platform, so answers are automatically graded and imported into the student's grade book.

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