Your glacier classroom offers a whole new perspective on climate change
When Earth Science Associate Professor Mike Loso downs a drink of cold water at his Anchorage home, he can’t help wondering: Is Eklutna Glacier shrinking?
It’s a question with serious implications for Alaska’s largest city, which relies on the Eklutna Lake watershed, some 25 miles northeast of Anchorage, as a main source of abundant, high-quality, cheap water.
Because the lake is fed by nearby Eklutna Glacier – and because glaciers are very sensitive to climate change – APU’s Earth Science students began working with Mike as principal investigator to measure indicators. Since 2007, data gathered by teams of Earth Science graduate and undergraduate students have helped document the glacier’s slow retreat and volume decline.
In fact, APU research so far suggests that the glacier will keep shrinking. That leads city officials, scientists and residents alike to wonder about longterm reliance on Eklutna Lake for water and hydropower. Data gathered by APU teams, including geographical information system analysis contributed by APU Environmental Science instructor Jason Geck, show that even small increases in average summer temperatures could dramatically reduce Eklutna Glacier volume.
Funded in part by Anchorage water and power utilities and the National Institute of Water Resources, the Eklutna Project is the centerpiece of an Earth Science field course in Glaciology and Glacier Travel. The monthlong class scheduled in May teaches snow and ice physics, glacier flow mechanisms and glacial landform types, among other topics.
APU manages the Alaska Project as dual-purpose research. Findings add to an understanding of ways that climate change may alter glacier runoff that helps stock Eklutna Lake. Just as important, the project is an only-at-APU opportunity for the next generation of glacier geologists to gain real-world training – while learning to safely ski and camp on a glacier.