Investigation: When will there no longer be glaciers in Glacier National Park?

An Investigation Question activity developed by Carol Ormand, Wittenberg University.


In this activity, students use historical data on the extent of the Grinnell Glacier in Glacier National Park to estimate when the glacier will melt completely.

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Learning Goals

  • Build skills and gain experience in analyzing and interpreting real geologic data

Context for Use

This activity is meant to follow a discussion of glaciers and their effects on alpine landscapes. See the course description, including links to all of the other teaching activities for this course. on the Geology of the National Parks.

Description and Teaching Materials

Student handout for Grinnell Glacier investigation (Microsoft Word 31kB Mar17 04)
This exercise also requires glacier imagery, and several sources of imagery are provided in the references section.

Teaching Notes and Tips

For more recent data on the Grinnell Glacier, students can use Google Earth imagery, USGS repeat photographs, or images from the Glaciers of the American West. Integrating data from various sources and deriving quantitative data from imagery can add to the skills students will develop in this exercise.


The activity report can be completed individually or as a group and should be a summary of the Investigation Question, the process for answering it and what that answer was. The report should be concise (less than 2 pages, typed) and should answer each of the major questions asked in the activity sheet.

References and Resources

Image of the extent of the Grinnell Glacier from 1850 to 1993. Click on the image to view a larger version. Image from the USGS.

Quantiative Skills Addressed

Writing, Problem solving, Models

Geoscience Topics Covered

Climate, cryosphere