#DrawnToGeoscience: How to make glaciers fun to learn about

Release date: June 10, 2020

Glacial Art.
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#DrawnToGeoscience is a series of posts by artists who draw about science and explain their process and inspiration while also showcasing their pieces. Learn more about contributing. This week, Carolyn Roberts. This post is adapted from a post in a sister blog here

I’ve been studying terrestrial glaciers for a half dozen years now, and Spoiler Alert: they are melting! While seeing the demise of the cryosphere unfold before my eyes, I started to pursue more and more outreach opportunities to help “get the word out” to the public. Last September, my artist-turned-geologist friend, Jeremy Stock, asked for help developing an afterschool art program for 4th-6th graders at a local school. A big motivation for us was to develop a way to teach children about glaciers that was informative and engaging. How do you explain glaciers to children? They take tens of thousands of years to form, move very slowly** and are far away (excluding the famed ‘Snowpocalypse’ of 2014: https://www.weather.gov/buf/lake1415_stormb.html)!

During our first planning session, I confessed my fascination with the Pour Painting craze that was sweeping across the internet, and we came up with the idea to simulate glaciers using acrylic paint. A month later, Jeremy and his dad built a wooden ramp with two tributary ramps that could transport paint downhill and onto a canvas in ≤45 minutes.

Our general procedure was to place the ramp over a drop cloth in a well-ventilated room, and to apply a base coat of white acrylic paint to the ramp and tributaries. Then we would ask the elementary students to add acrylic paint to the heads of the main and tributary ramps, simulating winter snowfall. We suggested they alternate between different colors to create a “banding” effect to help us track the flow’s evolution.

In practice, the students quickly figured out which ramp made the paint travel the fastest (i.e. steepest-sloping ramp), and they systematically hunted down the runniest (lowest-viscosity) paint we had pre-mixed. They were enthralled watching the runny paint flow down the ramp, mixing with other colors along the way, and causing a myriad of intricate flow features to form. The students would then shout out their observations as the flow evolved, prompting several lines of inquiry about real-life glaciers.

global goals.

Sustainable Development Goals:

13. Climate Action:Climate change is a global challenge that affects everyone, everywhere.