Glaciologist  What They Do

Just the Facts

Geoscientists Career Video

Insider Info

dotGlaciologists 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.

dotWhat 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.

dotA 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.

dotAs 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.

dotGlaciologists, 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 of time.

dotOffice 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.

At a Glance

Study all aspects of ice

  • It can be necessary to work in cold temperatures
  • This work can relate to weather and climate change and to the research of the Earth's history
  • You'll need a solid science education