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Instructor Class Description

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Edwin D Waddington
ESS 431
Seattle Campus

Principles of Glaciology

Covers snow deposition and metamorphism, avalanches, heat and mass balance at snow and ice surfaces, glacier flow, ice sheets, sea ice, permafrost, methods of paleoclimate reconstruction, Ice Age theories. Prerequisite: PHYS 121; recommended: ESS 310.

Class description

This course covers a broad range of geophysical problems involving ice in the environment (the "cryosphere") and its role in global change. Subjects include: formation, deposition and metamorphism of snow; glacier flow; behavior of ice sheets and interpretation of their chemistry and internal structure; growth and decay of sea ice and relation to climate; surface processes in glaciated terrain and permafrost terrain; paleoclimate reconstruction from glacial evidence. The course is primarily descriptive, but stresses a physical understanding of underlying processes.

Student learning goals

Students will be able to describe the major ice reservoirs on planet Earth, their characteristics, and their interactions with a changing environment.

Students will understand the phase diagram of water (pressure-temperature conditions at which H2O is solid, liquid, or vapor) and will be able to use it to explain the behavior of ice.

Students will gain a better understanding of how to formulate useful (and also solvable) questions about the environment.

General method of instruction

The course is co-taught by a number of faculty with expertise in specific areas in glaciology. Instruction is primarily by lectures on different topics each Monday and Wednesday class.

In the Discussion session on Fridays, the instructors for the current week answer questions about the lectures, present special topics in more depth, and work through example problems related to homework or tests.

Recommended preparation

Some background experience in using physics to formulate problems and in using calculus and other mathematical or statistical approaches to solve them is very helpful. Personal experience with snow and ice has motivated students to take this class.

Class assignments and grading

There are homework assignments approximately weekly. These assignments consist of a mixture of worked quantitative problems involving ice in the environment, and descriptive answers to questions that probe student understanding of processes operating in the cryosphere.

A field trip to a glacier on Mt. Baker early in the Quarter is a highlight of the class. While participation is not mandatory, it is highly recommended. There is a graded assignment associated with the field trip. An alternative assignment can be completed for those unable to go on the field trip.

Grades are based on a combination of homework assignments, mid-term and final exams, and class participation.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Additional Information:
Last Update by Edwin D Waddington
Date: 10/19/2010