What does a glacial geologist do?
It is pretty obvious that glaciers are melting worldwide, already contributing to sea level rise. But by how much and to what extent will they change in the future? Glacial geologists work to answer these questions.
We can reconstruct past glaciers and ice sheets by compiling the traces, or fingerprints, that they have left behind on the landscape. This process works pretty much like placing pieces in a gigantic jig-saw puzzle. The more pieces we add to it the clearer the picture on the puzzle will be. Generations of glacial geologists have been adding to this puzzle. The methods used for data collection and analyzes have evolved considerably since the early days and they will keep evolving, so glacial geologists will keep providing new pieces of the puzzle.
Why do we work so hard to figure out the timing of past glacier advances or, the extent of ice sheets long gone? The main motivation here is that we want to know how glaciers and ice sheets are interacting with the rest of the global climate system. This is a complex system and by going further back in time – to geological archives – we can expand on our understanding of how this interaction works. This is part of what glacial geologists do!
Together with my students and colleagues I am going out in the field in search for these puzzle pieces. We are studying sediments and landforms left behind by glaciers and ice sheets on Svalbard. We are also studying sediment cores from lakes to reconstruct how glaciers have changed in response to climate change in the past.