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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Edwin D Waddington
ESS 203
Seattle Campus

Glaciers and Global Change

Explores how glaciers record climate change and human activities through bubbles of ancient air and trace impurities in the ice. Also reviews glaciers impact on societies through sea-level, coastlines, water supplies, and transportation routes. Open to non-science majors.

Class description

Earth's glaciers are changing. This course examines the role that glaciers and polar ice sheets play in altering climate, landscape and sea level, locally and globally, and the role that glaciers play in teaching us about past climate and environmental changes, both natural and human-caused. Glaciers slowly advance and retreat in response to past and present climate changes, and their weight can push down the earth's crust; as a result, changes in Earth's glacial environment today can tell us about climate in the past. Layers of buried glacier ice from earlier climate periods also contain a rich and detailed history of the atmosphere and the climate in the past, unlike the records found anywhere else. We examine theories of the Ice Ages, and look at evidence for glaciers that covered Puget Sound. Finally, we consider how glaciers might change in the future, with accompanying impacts on our society.

Student learning goals

An appreciation of how glaciers and polar ice sheets alter climate, landscape and sea level in ways that affect our society.

An understanding of how the ice on Planet Earth is changing today.

Insight into the ways earth scientists can extract a wealth of information about past environments from measurements on ordinary materials like ice, stone, mud, or wood.

An ability to read scientific research papers, to get the story from the original source.

An understanding of the power and usefulness of simple arithmetic in finding approximate answers to fundamental environmental questions.

A sense of how you can apply these methods to other questions beyond this course.

General method of instruction

Classes will be a mix of instruction and group discussions. I will expect you to attend classes and contribute to discussions. In the weekly Labs, you will work in groups to explore in more depth topics that were introduced in class. The Labs also include field trips to explore ways that glaciers have shaped the landscape and environment of Seattle and the Puget Lowland.

Recommended preparation

This class has no pre-requisites. However, students who do well in this class are those who are willing to let their interest and curiosity about the natural world be their guide. A recipe for success in this course is to do the preparation for class (such as assigned readings), to attend classes and labs, to turn in the writing assignments, and to take an active part in discussion groups.

Class assignments and grading

There will seveal types of assignments.

(1) There will be regular short writing assignments on topics discussed in class. These assignments will be due at the start of the next class. To help me to assess your understanding of the course material, I will read your written work and give you feedback on content and writing style on each assignment. Completion of these assignments will contribute to your Class Participation grade (below). I will not give you a numerical grade for assignments of this type; they will be C/NC.

(2) There will also be writing assignments associated with each lab. These exercises can be completed in the lab or finished up as homework. You are encouraged to work through the exercises as a group. However, each person will turn in their own answers at class the following Monday morning. These Lab assignments will be graded with a numerical grade by the TA.

(3) There will be a group project involving a group presentation to the class at the end of the quarter, and a paper co-authored by your group members. You will work in a group with 1 or 2 other people to explore a topic involving glaciers or global change. I will suggest some topics, but your group will also have the flexibility to select a topic of your own choosing if you wish.

Grades will be assigned based on: 25% - midterm tests (2) 40% - lab attendance and writing assignments 15% - group research report 20% - class participation (attendance, group participation, and homework)


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: 11/08/2009