Years ago, I moved to a tiny town in Alaska. At the time, I didn’t know what career I wanted. Little did I know that I would become a scientist and an explorer. But today, that’s just what I am. I am a geographer and glaciologist.  That’s someone who studies glaciers around the world.

When I was young, I had never met a scientist, let alone a female scientist. I didn’t know that science was an option for me. But my dad always told me to focus on what I loved and a career would follow.

I loved the outdoors. So, I moved to Skagway, Alaska, to work outside. It was there I fell in love with glaciers. A glacier is a moving river of ice that flows over Earth’s surface. The mountains around Skagway are full of them. The valley, or fjord, where Skagway sits was even made by a glacier!

Skagway, Alaska, is in a valley made by a glacier long ago.

This is an aerial image of Hoffellsjökull, a glacier in Iceland.

Ever tasted a glacier? It’s a fun part of the tour when I take students to see glaciers.

Glacier Formation

For a long time, Skagway had the perfect ingredients to grow glaciers. It had snow, cold temperatures, and time. All three work together. Snow falls and stacks up. Cold temperatures keep that stacked snow from melting. Over time, the snow stacks up until it is hundreds of meters thick. Only then will it turn into glacier ice.

How? Close your eyes and imagine a single snowflake. It doesn’t weigh very much. Now imagine millions and millions stacked on top of each other. What happens to that snowflake at the bottom? The pressure and weight of all the snow squishes down to form “firn.” Over decades, firn compresses into dense glacial ice! Glacial ice is so hard that, when it moves over the land, it can scrape and smooth rockjust like sandpaper does.