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Indiana Geologists Join UC Glacier Expedition

Date: Aug. 31, 2001
By: Chris Curran
Phone: (513) 556-1806
Photos by: Colleen Kelley and Chris Curran
Archive: Research News

Indiana geologists Marni Dickson and Shannon Jock wanted to know more about see more than the ancient remains of the giant ice sheets which once covered the Midwest.

Marni Dickson

So this August, Dickson and Jock joined a University of Cincinnati course on Glacial Field Methods led by UC Professor Thomas Lowell in south central Alaska.

"I wanted the hands-on experience," said Dickson, 27 and a native of Hamilton, Ontario. "Since '93, everything I've learned about glaciers has been theoretical."

Dickson already knows a lot about the marks glaciers leave. She's an expert on striations, the lines which mark bedrock scratched by a glacier's advance.

The direction of the lines can be a strong clue when searching for the source of important minerals and precious gems. The technique is called drift prospecting.

"You can trace it back up the ice and find its source," explained Dickson. "They discovered diamond mines in the northwest territories this way."

Marni Dickson

As a research glacial geologist at the Indiana Geological Survey, Dickson said she is a strong believer in professional development. She earned a master's degree at the University of New Brunswick in Canada, but wanted to learn more.

Despite her Canadian roots, Dickson had never seen a glacier in person until this summer's trip. "I was just awestruck. I tried to phone home and couldn't find the words for it."

Dickson says the experience in glacial field methods she gained this summer in Alaska will have a direct impact on her work in the Hoosier state. "It's helping me in Indiana, because the state was on an ice margin."

Specifically, Dickson is helping to investigate the sub-surface sediments left by glaciers thousands of years ago, so a three-dimensional model of glaciation in Indiana can be developed.

Shannon Jock is a 27-year-old graduate student at Indiana University and no stranger to ice. He played hockey for 16 years before switching to hiking and biking. But he'd never been to Alaska. So he jumped at the chance to join the University of Cincinnati group and improve his field skills.

Shannon Jock at Gulkana Glacier

"The hills in Bloomington are a lot different from the hills here," he joked while enjoying a ferry ride across glacier-rich Prince William Sound.

A native of Fort Covington, New York, Jock spent two summers doing field work in the Adironacks as an undergraduate. As an IU graduate student, he spent most of the summer collecting data at the Crane Naval Base southwest of Bloomington. The UC trip expanded his field skills into a new area -- glaciers and the impacts of global climate change on them.

Jock is interested in environmental geology, because the field keeps him outdoors. He's currently working to develop new methods for predicting how contaminants would move through fractures in the Earth. That would make it easier and less expensive to prevent pollutants from contaminating major aquifers or groundwater supplies.

"I'm looking at karst which is very complex with multiple channels," said Jock. "We hope to be able to identify the main conduit where everything gets flushed into. That's where you can contain the flow."

Shannon Jock

Jock said Lowell's course helped him both personally and professionally. "I learned a lot of to collect data, what to do with it. I learned quite a bit about how to use my own skills, but the course isn't just about science. It applies to anything you do."

Dickson and Jock are returning to Bloomington at the end of the month with a greatrer appreciation of glaciers and how a changing climate is threatening their existence. They saw first-hand the rapid retreat of more than a dozen glaciers over the last 50 years.

"It's not just fun and games," said Jock, "taking everything and not giving back. If we don't do something, it's not going to be there."

That's a lesson he hopes many people will learn, not just those in the University of Cincinnati course.

Click here to find out more about the UC course.

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