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Demonstrating Glaciation - A BSG Supported Outreach Activity

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c.skinner@hull.ac.uk's picture

The British Society for Geomorphology provides Outreach Grants to members who wish to communicate our science more widely. Dr Tim Lane of Liverpool John Moores University recieved a grant in the Spring 2016 round to build a mountain model to demonstrate glacial processes, and below is a report of this excellent activity - 

"Earlier this year we were awarded one of the first Outreach Grants from the British Society for Geomorphology – set up to provide funding for BSG members who want to organise outreach events or produce outreach materials. It’s hoped that the events funded through this grant will promote discussion about geomorphology between academics and members of the public. This is significant because, although geomorphology is widely accessible throughout the UK (and world!), its importance is often overlooked by the public. It is therefore vital to foster an appreciation of geomorphology’s importance for understanding past natural processes and predicting future change.


Our interest in public outreach and engagement began several years ago following a panel discussion with Prof. Iain Stewart, and the importance of academics engaging with the public, and resulted in the setting up of our outreach website Climatica (www.climatica.org.uk). This can be difficult, especially in the fields we work in. It’s therefore important to pitch outreach at a level which allows the public to see the wider implications of our work. Whilst the impact of future sea-level change may be interesting to many people, the intricacies of glacial bedform formation and surface exposure dating results may not be! Instead, the goal of our outreach project was to take the public beyond this – enthuse them about geomorphology by exalting the insight it can give us into broader questions.

The grant we received was to produce a number of outreach tools which will belong to the BSG and can be loaned by anyone in the BSG wishing to use them.  As opposed to simply being designed for one specific event, they are completely reusable, and can then be taken to museums, schools, or other outreach events. Our proposal included: the building of two mountain models on which “Glacier Goo” could be placed to simulate the movement of a mountain glacier/ice cap; pull-up banners with geomorphological photographs, diagrams, and information; and leaflets containing the same information with further detail.  All of these are designed to be highly portable to allow as many people as possible to use the materials in a variety of settings, at museums, universities, schools, and other public events.


After discussion with members of the public, the ‘model’ mountains were built based on the topography of two British mountains, Snowdon and Ben Macdui.  These real world examples allow the public to engage on more than one level, as many of those we spoke to had visited these mountains, or at the least knew of them.  We first demonstrated the mountain model at Manchester Museum in July 2016 as part of one of their Big Saturday events, linked to the Manchester Science Festival.  This brought together academics from Manchester Metropolitan University, Liverpool John Moores University, and Manchester University, all of which were presenting interactive displays to the public linked to the museum’s “Climate Control” exhibition.  The event was a success, with over 800 visitors over the course of the day, ranging from young primary school level children to interested adults. The knowledge of some of the children was great, able to understand the basics of how glaciers flow and where we may have seen them in Britain in the past. We were then able to use the model to explain the geomorphology of glaciated terrain, including cirques, parabolic valleys, and moraines, and the importance of the landscape in understand how extensive and thick glacier have been in the past. By adding or removing the glacier it was also possible to explain glacier mass balance, and consequently how current glaciers may respond in a warming climate.

The first demonstrations of the model have, therefore, been a huge success, and allow the public to engage with scientists over a wide range of topics, include past, present, and future glaciology."

Think you have a great outreach idea or are communicating geomorphology at an event and want support? You find information on BSG Outreach Grants on this page.