From Lake Ice to Lava

Three students traveled to California during winter break to attend the fall AGU conference.

Students share research at premier international conference

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

Three students traveled to San Francisco in December to present original research at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) fall conference, the largest earth and space science meeting in the world. They did so with funding from Dickinson’s Kenderdine Student Travel Grant, which supports student travel for research and development.

“We spoke to hundreds of scientists in our respective fields, and we have learned an incredible amount, and we returned home inspired to continue our work,” said Emily Whitaker ’17 (physics), who took part in the conference along with Emily Kaplita ’16 (biology) and Will Kochtitzky ’16 (earth sciences, environmental science), who was interviewed by NASA representatives about his work. Below, the students report on their findings.


Emily Whitaker '17 presents original research at the fall 2015 AGU.


Emily Whitaker ’17: During a summer 2016 student-faculty research collaboration at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with Visiting Instructor of Physics David Reed, I realized that there is currently not a way to reliably and cheaply measure lake ice thickness. To fill this void, I looked at innovative ways to cheaply and efficiently measure lake ice depth using soil water content sensors and created a model lake, using an environmental chamber to mirror freezing lake temperatures and thaw periods. I then measured the ice depths and derived an equation relating volumetric water content and ice depth.

These sensors will be used on Lake Mendota, in Madison, Wis., this winter for field testing. With the information the sensors will collect, we can gather more information about climate change and increase lake safety. The work was funded through the National Science Foundation and is being published in Limnology and Oceanography: Methods

Emily Kaplita '16 presents her research.


Emily Kaplita ’16: I worked with Visiting Instructor in Physics David Reed to study timing and gender influence in pre-college science education. I compiled and analyzed more than 400 surveys of college students from four universities in Oklahoma who each study the sciences.

This data demonstrated that females enjoy science most early [in their pre-college careers] and when working with others, whereas males most enjoy science later, and when they work alone. From this study we determined that in order to reach a broad audience, we need to educate people about science issues, such as climate change, early on and in a variety of ways.

This research was funded through a grant from the Center for Sustainability Education. I am collaborating with Professor Reed on publishing a manuscript for this research that will be submitted for publication this spring. 


Will Kochtitzky '16 presents at the AGU.



Will Kochtitzky ’16: The Nevada Coropuna ice cap in Peru is host to the largest amount of ice in the tropics and also poses hazard to surrounding communities from volcano-ice interactions. In collaboration with the Peruvian Volcano Observatory, I worked with Associate Professor of Earth Sciences Ben Edwards to characterize glacial evolution on Coropuna.


Because previous authors have suggested that Coropuna is shrinking at 1.4 square kilometers each year, the Peruvian government has identified Coropuna as a location in need of adaptation funding, and has published reports suggesting that the ice will be a non-contributor to water supply as early as 2025. However, upon a reanalysis of the available imagery, we found that the ice is instead shrinking at 0.4 square kilometers/year, and that Coropuna will continue to contribute to water supplies for at least several more decades. This has massive implications for water management in southern Peru.

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Published January 12, 2016