Reading High Graduate Moves from Rock Climbing to Alaskan Adventure on Ice
Date: Aug. 31, 2001
By: Chris Curran
Phone: (513) 556-1806
Photos by: Colleen Kelley
Archive: Research News
Michelle Hart's rock collecting hobby moved from shoebox-sized to Alaska-sized this summer.
The University of Cincinnati junior and 1999 Reading High grad is one of several students participating in a Glacial Field Methods course taught by UC Professor Thomas Lowell.
The course races along at much faster than glacial speed as students traverse hundreds of miles to study more than a dozen far-flung glaciers in south central Alaska. The goal is to get a better understanding of how they work.
Michelle is part of the "giggle group" in the class, sharing a quick laugh with her friends after climbing to 3700 feet. That's a climb that would leave most people gasping for air, but Michelle just keeps on giggling.
She fell in love with geology as a child. "My dad and I would collect Ordovician fossils where homes were being built in the TriCounty area. I always had a shoebox full of rocks I had collected."
Michelle's father Bill is a history teacher at Pleasant Run Middle School, but he has a strong interest in science as well. "My dad and I are a lot alike," she said admiringly.
Once she was in high school, her attraction to geology grew even stronger. Her teacher, Jim Shafer, would show slides of different places around the world, including Alaska. "I knew I wanted to see those land forms first hand," she remembers.
Michelle's favorite fossil finds are Nautiloids, because they're "Huge!"
Nautiloids can grow up to six feet, but the largest piece Michelle ever found was only about a foot long.
In Alaska, she's had no problem finding big things. The class hikes can be miles long and end thousands of feet above sea level. The glaciers stand tall and powerful in the valleys -- giant sheets of baby blue or dusty gray ice. Many have been retreating steadily in recent decades, and Michelle is determined to find out why.
"The issue of global climate change interests me," said Michelle, who is learning how glaciers might be an important indicator of the Earth's climate over the millennia.
Although Cincinnati was covered by glacial ice thousands of years ago, Michelle was glad to see how active glaciers operate.
"What happened in Cincinnati thousands of years ago is so different from active glaciers. The most overwhelming thing is you find there's such a variety."
Michelle says she's grateful for the opportunity to learn about glaciers out in the field rather than from a textbook. "It's hard work, but it's outdoors and it's beautiful."
Michelle has been on other geology field trips, although none has been as long as her Alaskan adventure. Each posed special challenges,which she met and conquered with a constant smile.
"Each geology trip has its different endurance test. The jagged rocks everywhere will be the true test here."
She also enjoys traveling whenever she gets the opportunity and encourages others to learn from her experience, even if she's one of the youngest in the UC course.
"If there's any way to observe different worlds and cultures, take the opportunity to run with it," she advises. "You can do it!"
Read about the adventures of other students in Alaska.