New Funds Help Girls On Ice Canada Expand Access to Glacier Expeditions

This past month, Girls On Ice Canada was granted $25,000 through the PromoScience Program of the Natural Resource and Engineering Research Council of Canada in order to continue their inspirational and educational science program in 2019. In the summer of 2018, the organization took their first group of 10 women aged 16-17 on a free trip through Canada’s Glacier National Park.

Girls On Ice Canada is run by Inspiring Girls Expeditions, an organization that began with an expedition in 1999 to the South Cascade Glacier in Washington with a group of five girls and two instructors. Since then, it has expanded to offer a variety of programs that provide young women opportunities to explore science and nature on glaciers, water, rocks, and fjords.

With women remaining an underrepresented group in the sciences, Girls On Ice provides an environment for young women to explore their scientific interests. As Erin Pettit, founder of Girls On Ice and Inspiring Girls Expeditions, told Smithsonian, girls are socialized to avoid showing their interest or intelligence in science. “But I want to provide a space without that pressure—where the girls can show their interest, their intelligence, their strength,” she said.

Girls On Ice Canada, the newest addition to the programs offered by Inspiring Girls Expeditions, was founded by Alison Criscitiello and three others. “The idea is to serve a different population, mainly First Nations youth in Canada,” Criscitiello told GlacierHub. The Canada-based program, she explained, was a response to the number of Canadian girls applying to the US expeditions.

2018 Girls On Ice Canada participants on GlacierHub
Participants in a 2018 Girls On Ice Canada expedition pose for the camera. (Source: Alison Criscitiello)

The new Canadian program is in high demand. A press release from the University of Alberta, which houses Girls on Ice Canada, notes that over 600 girls applied to ten spots in this year’s expedition.

Criscitiello told GlacierHub that the group is aiming to expand, eventually offering two or three expeditions a year. As part of the effort to make Canada’s program accessible to as many young women as possible, this year’s expedition will involve a live session through National Geographic’s Explorer Classroom program, during which participants will have the opportunity to answer their peers’ questions from their expedition campground.

Girls On Ice isn’t only encouraging women to pursue the sciences. According to the group’s philosophy, regardless of whether participants continue with careers in the sciences, the program seeks to enable young women to “challenge themselves and gain self-confidence in their physical, intellectual, and social abilities.”

Girls On Ice Canada’s first expedition, which occurred last year, had a positive effect on Alyana Lalani. Writing in Scouting Life, she said the program “helped me change my mindset because, moving onwards in life, I know that I will get through whatever difficulty I am facing if I keep going forward.”

According to Inspiring Girls Expeditions, its expeditions are “the science version of a language immersion experience—where we connect science with all aspects of daily life with the goal of creating lifelong advocates for Earth science, specifically, and the scientific process as a whole.”

Criscitiello hopes to make the group’s 2019 expedition even more immersive. Last summer, during the group’s first expedition in Canada, the group spent the first several days of the program at a campground near the glacier due to a lack of available space, she said. “This year,” she said, “we’re heading almost immediately straight into the backcountry and cutting some of that time out in an attempt to really spend the bulk of the time with the girls in a remote location where there’s no interaction with other people and you’re really out there.”

Environmental awareness is a crucial part of this immersion. Alyana said, “During our entire expedition, my instructors stressed the Leave No Trace principles—minimum-impact outdoor activity and taking care of the environment.”

Girls On Ice Canada aims to empower young women to find confidence while pursuing research and learning to appreciate British Columbia’s glacial landscapes. It also plays a role in raising awareness about the conservation of glaciers. As Alyana said, “no matter what our goals were, protecting and respecting our environment came first.”

Read More on GlacierHub:

Photo Friday: Nelly Elagina’s View of Mount Elbrus

The Impact of the GRACE Mission on Glaciology and Climate Science

How Dust From Receding Glaciers Is Affecting the Climate

Inspiring Girls Expeditions: Encouraging the Next Generation of Women Scientists

Women made up less than a quarter of those employed in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in 2015 in the United States. Only 35 percent of students who pursued these fields, whether at the undergraduate, masters, or Ph.D level, were women. For women of color these numbers are significantly lower—about 10 percent

An organization called Inspiring Girls Expeditions has spent the last 20 years encouraging girls to pursue STEM-related fields. This outdoor-education program provides 16 and 17-year-old girls an opportunity to create and learn in the outdoors. Erin Pettit, the group’s director and founder, began one the group’s core programs, known as Girls on Ice, in 1999. As a graduate student, Pettit lead a field course at the University of Washington where participants navigated unmarked trails and made their way to the South Cascade Glacier. After the first semester, only women were registered and Pettit liked the dynamic. Pettit and others began writing grants to provide a free course to women who wanted to go out and explore nature and conduct scientific research. Thus, Girls on Ice Washington began.

Participants rope up as they venture into the accumulation zone of the Gulkana Glacier in the Alaska Range (Source: Joanna Young/Inspiring Girls Expeditions).

Inspiring Girls Expedition now sponsors programs in Washington, Alaska, Canada, and Switzerland. The excursions explore not only glaciers; girls have an opportunity to apply for Girls on Water, a kayaking trip in Kachemak Bay, Alaska, as well as Girls on Rock, a climbing-focused trip in White River National Forest in Colorado.  

All trips are free and participants are provided all of the equipment they will need: backpacks, helmets, and crampons, for example. Inspiring Girls Expedition asks applicants about their day-today lives so they can get an idea of who might benefit most from exploring science outside of the classroom. Those applicants might be girls who work to help support their families, are the first in their family to pursue college, or have never left their hometowns.

A participant measures the temperature of sub-debris ice as part of a field experiment. (Source: Joanna Young/Inspiring Girls Expeditions)

Inspiring Girls Expedition programs typically run for about 10 days. During the trips, girls work with field researchers, glaciologists, kayak guides, mountaineers, and artists. From the moment they meet on the first day, they are surrounded solely by women. By showcasing women in STEM fields, the program hopes that participating girls can imagine themselves being able to succeed in these fields.

Joanna Young, cofounder of Girls on Ice Alaska, is an example of the gender shift the group seeks to encourage. Growing up looking at the night sky, Young always had an appreciation for science. She pursued physics and astronomy as an undergraduate at the University of British Columbia. She recalls that about 10 percent of her cohort were women, and just 5 percent of the faculty were women. In many of her classes, she said, women stuck together, often working on group projects together.

“The men had numbers on their side and role models to look up to even if those people were not mentors,” Young said. “They had a lot more evidence by looking at the faculty and professors that people like them could probably succeed in this field if they want to.”  

Inspiring Girls Expeditions provides a space for girls to see what real field work looks like.  Young said the girls’ awareness of the discrepancy between men and women in the field often brings up questions about what it looks like to be a woman in science. Young explained that that there are no taboos with the girls; the women share their experiences, the good and the bad. What is more important is “creating this network of women who are there to support each other in the long term. Ten years from now if one of them contacts us, we absolutely remember them and are still there to help.”

A participant takes a break during a bid for an Alaska Range summit. (Source: Joanna Young/Inspiring Girls Expeditions)

Though the program is still developing ways to track how many girls actually go on to purse a career in the science, it is clear that it has made an impact on many alumni. Two graduates of the program are now instructors, while others have embarked on careers in wildlife biology, engineering, and environmental science. Young recalls one girl in particular who decided to pursue a Ph.D in glaciology, noting that Girls on Ice was critical in choice.

“A lot of the mission designed around showing girls that STEM is accessible to them,” Young explained. “This is an opportunity to break down stereotypes and show that scientist are real people too. We can tell our stories about how we ended up in science.”  

Read More on GlacierHub:

Increased Focus on Mountains in the IPCC’s AR6 Report

What Glacier State Congressmembers Think of a Green New Deal

Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment Outlines Potentially Dire Impacts of Climate Change

Roundup: Antarctica’s Glacier Loss, Girls on Ice, and A New Glacier Model

Antarctica’s Glacier Melt Is More Extensive

From Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: Antarctica’s ice is melting at an accelerating pace—six times the melt rate four decades ago—and that could have significant consequences for coastal communities around the world. The Antarctic shed 40 billion tons of ice each year between 1979 and 1989. But researchers say that the southern continent has been shedding 252 billion tons of ice each year since 2009.

“I don’t want to be alarmist,” Eric Rignot, an Earth systems scientist for both the University of California, Irvine, and NASA, who led the work, told The Washington Post. “The places undergoing changes in Antarctica are not limited to just a couple places,” said Rignot. “They seem to be more extensive than what we thought. That, to me, seems to be reason for concern.”

Read the study here.

Researchers from UCI and NASA JPL recently conducted an assessment of 40 years’ worth of ice mass balance in Antarctica, finding accelerating deterioration of its ice cover (Source: Joe MacGregor/NASA).


Inspiring the Next Generation of Women Scientists

From Inspiring Girls Expeditions: Offering free, wilderness excursions for high school-aged girls, Inspiring Girls Expeditions aims to foster curiosity about the natural world and methods of scientific inquiry. Since 1999 University of Alaska, Fairbanks glaciologist Erin Pettit has led over a dozen “Girls on Ice” trips to Washington’s South Cascade Glacier.

Pettit founded the program because “I wanted to share the inspiration, curiosity, and excitement of using science to learn and explore the mountains. In turn, the girls have taught me about the dreams, and challenges, and amazing variation of lives and experiences for girls from all different communities and cultures across the world.”

Upcoming Girls on Ice expeditions include trips to the Gulkana Glacier in Alaska, Washington’s Mount Baker, the Asulkan Valley in British Columbia, and the Findelen Glacier in Switzerland.

Find out more about Inspiring Girls Expeditions here.

A “Girls on Ice” expedition (Source: Inspiring Girls Expeditions).


A New Tool for Modeling Glacier Flow

From The Journal of Chemical Physics: Bo Persson, a theoretical physicist at the Jülich Research Center in Germany, has developed an improved model of glacier flow. Persson said his model improves understanding of the cavities that form between ice and bedrock and how water fills these cavities and becomes pressurized.

Persson’s past work has focused on rubber friction and adhesion. “I could take knowledge I have gained during maybe 10 or 15 years of studies of other friction and quickly apply it to the glacier friction problem,” he told the CBC.

The model could help improve estimates of how much glacier melt is contributing to sea level rise around the world.

Read more about Persson’s new model here.

Theoretical physicist Bo Persson has developed an improved model of glacier flow. (Source: Multiscale Consulting)