Glaciers' Weight Helps Scientiststrack Environmental Changes
Glaciers are very large chunks of ice and snow. Think of a frozen river, one that's been frozen for thousands of years.
Glaciers exist in the very coldest regions of the Earth. They are features on mountains across the continents, except in Australia, where there are no glaciers now.
As glaciers melt, they provide fresh water for plants and animals. Too much glacial melt can cause environmental concerns, though. The study of glaciers is called glaciology and involves math, physics, chemistry and computer programming.
"Measuring the volume of glaciers and ice sheets is a very important topic in glaciology today," said Christina Hulbe, associate professor in the department of geology at Portland State University.
"Most glaciers are getting smaller right now due to global warming. As glacier volume decreases, sea levels rise."
You need a map of a glacier in order to measure it, Hulbe said. The parts of the glacier that are visible can be charted using standard measurement tools. Hulbe said NASA and the National Science Foundation sponsor scientists to study changing ice sheet and glacier volume.
"Scientists use data collected on the surface from airplanes and satellites. They write computer programs to analyze all the data," she said.
It's the underside of the glacier that's tough to measure.
"Sometimes we can use radar to look right through the glacier and make a map of the land surface right underneath the glacier," Hulbe said.
"There are a few other methods as well. Sometimes one method works in a particular place while another method does not. …