Glaciologists are ice experts. They warn that if all the ice presently
on Earth suddenly melted, the sea would rise 230 feet! Not only that, but
glaciologists say that the mass of ice stored in the polar ice sheets and
in alpine glaciers are closely related to the climate.
Glaciologists study all aspects of ice, from the polar ice caps to mountain
glaciers. That is, they research all the natural phenomena on Earth that involve
ice. "This can be anything frozen, sometimes including snow and permafrost
research," says Martin Jeffries. He is a glaciologist in Alaska.
What are glaciers? These solid masses of ice form in areas that have a
steady temperature below freezing. After snow falls, the snow accumulates.
Over time, layers of snow form thickened masses of ice. When the ice is about
60 feet thick, it begins to deform and move.
The sheer size of a glacier and its gravitational pull causes it to flow
down a mountain, across plains and to the sea. Glaciers, as has been happening
around the world in the past 60 to 100 years, retreat due to warmer weather,
evaporation and wind.
A glaciologist's research involves collecting ice, studying it and designing
experiments. This work can relate to weather and climate change, to earth
sciences and exploration, and to the research of the Earth's history.
As you can imagine, glaciers can't be entirely studied from an office.
Research stations are set up in the North, in Antarctica and on mountains
around the world. "We spent quite a bit of time on top of glaciers working,"
says Brian Moorman. He is a glaciologist.
Many researchers divide their time between fieldwork in often remote locations
and office work, where they process their data and often teach courses at
colleges and universities.
Glaciologists, like other geophysical scientists, often work for colleges,
universities and government. Some may be self-employed and contract out their
services to companies.
The average workday for a glaciologist depends on whether they are out
in the field or in the office. Office hours are regular, generally starting
at 9 a.m. and ending at 5 p.m. If glaciologists are working in remote locations,
they may not be able to leave their work environment for extended periods
Office work requires little physical activity. However, glaciologists working
in the field need more strength. They must also become accustomed to working
in cold temperatures.
"The harshness of the environment, extreme temperatures and winds can sometimes
interfere with what we are trying to accomplish," says Marjorie Porter. She
is an educator who has done glaciology research.