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Modeling Glacier Dynamics with Flubber

Leigh A. Stearns
,
Climate Change Institute / University of Maine
Author Profile

We created a hands-on activity for middle and high school students that describes glacier mass balance in a changing climate. The students make a glacier using glue, water and detergent ("flubber") and construct a glacier valley using plastic sheeting. They are encouraged to run several tests with different values for valley slope, "flubber" temperature, and basal conditions. The students then calculate the "flubber" velocity for each scenario. We compare our glacier models to the dynamics of real glaciers and discuss how and why they might be changing over time.

Context

Audience:

I have used this activity with many age levels, ranging from elementary school to graduate school seminars. It can be adapted as a fun activity for younger kids, or as a mathematically intense structural geology lab for undergraduates or graduate students.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered:

For the most basic level, students must be able to calculate velocity. For more advanced classes, students can calculate shear stress and strain rates for the flubber.

How the activity is situated in the course:

This project is probably best as a stand-alone project, although it can be altered to fit many different setups. It's best if all the data is collected on one day, but not necessary.

National or State Education Standards addressed by this activity?:

Goals

Content/concepts goals for this activity:

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity:

This lesson can incorporate many levels of higher order thinking skills such as formulating a hypothesis, designing an experiment and analyzing data with simple statistics.

Other skills goals for this activity:

Description of the activity/assignment

We created a hands-on activity for middle and high school students that describes glacier mass balance in a changing climate. The students make a glacier using glue, water and detergent ("flubber") and construct a glacier valley using plastic sheeting. They are encouraged to run several tests with different values for valley slope, "flubber" temperature, and basal conditions. The students then calculate the "flubber" velocity for each scenario. We compare our glacier models to the dynamics of real glaciers and discuss how and why they might be changing over time.

Determining whether students have met the goals

The students complete a worksheet and can be evaluated on written reports or oral presentations.

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Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

http://www.geology.um.maine.edu/geodynamics/AnalogWebsite/Projects2003/Sterns_Osterberg_2003/index.html
http://www.ume.maine.edu/USITASE/teachers/activityideas.html

Controlled Vocabulary Terms

Subject: Geoscience
Resource Type: Activities:Lab Activity
Grade Level: College Lower (13-14), College Upper (15-16), High School (9-12), Middle (6-8)
Ready for Use: Ready to Use

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