Studying Climate and Glaciers

My favorite class that I am currently taking is called Climate, Glaciers, and Human Impact. I find the class incredibly interesting and very engaging; especially considering it is just me, one other student, and my professor. Learning more about ice cores and glacial climate science has really opened my eyes to a new field of study within environmental science. As Denmark is one of the leading stakeholders in ice and glacial science, it seems I have come to the right place to study it.

What I initially found so shocking about taking this class was the way that it reformed my fundamental understanding of environmental science. After taking many ES classes at Colby, I thought I had a pretty good understanding of climate change and the environment. However, after the first couple of classes here in Denmark, I realized there were major gaps in my understanding and knowledge, especially in terms of my understanding of Earth’s past climate. For example, I never knew that the climate had previously warmed during the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum to much greater temperatures than we are predicting for our near future. While the climate forcing (what caused this warming) was not human caused GHG emissions, the glacial melt, feedback loops, regional climate changes, and sea level rise can provide us with some idea of the future. If there is one outstanding message this course has emphasized, it is the power of examining our past in order to inform our future.

My course has more recently focused on our recent past, by that I mean the transition out of the last ice age, and into our current Holocene era where we now have relatively stable temperatures and conditions. We have discussed the melting triggers and processes that led to the melting of the great Laurentide Ice Sheet that once covered a majority of the Northern Hemisphere and was larger than Antartica. As Denmark sits in the North Atlantic and Greenland is technically part of Denmark, Denmark has been a key location and topic of discussion in my class. I have learned to recognize glacial moraines in Denmark, and am currently in Northern Jutland, where glaciers have shaped much of the landscape. We have discussed past climate events where key supporting evidence was found in the mud flats of central Jutland, and analyzed graphs that my professor has taken a part in creating during her part time work at the NorthGRIP remote ice drill site in Greenland. The class has engaged me in a kind of climate trouble shooting. My professor will set the context and provide me with graphs, or an understanding of a topic, but she is always asking me questions. It is then my job to try and understanding why something may have happened in our past climate. What caused what, and why something happened.

I have really enjoyed exploring a new frontier in climate science that I think will have a deep impact on the ES classes I take and work I do in the future.