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Science and Technology

UC professor's cold hard facts about glaciers

Lewis Owen, head of the University of Cincinnati's geology department, deals in very small quantities.

He shows off what important stuff is left of one sample he brought home from the Himalayas. “That’s a little steel disk and on it is just a little smear of sand grains," Owen said.

With the samples he brings home, Owen is trying to map where glaciers used to be , where they've moved and how climate change will affect the world’s future. For a quarter century The University of Cincinnati professor has been making trips to China, Tibet, India and Pakistan.

He's seen evidence of advance and retreat

He pulls up pictures on his computer of his trip to northern India last summer. Owen says the mountains are just crumbling away there.

"So just look at all the debris on this,'' Owen said. "Here's a lake that formed in the front of the glaciers where they are melting."

Big lakes swallowing up towns is one problem when glaciers melt. Others include landslides, earthquakes, volcanoes and violent weather swings.

Owens' two methods of dating:

  1. Cosmogenic dating
  2. Optically stimulated luminescence (OSL)

Research tells him glaciers are fickle. "Why is it in one area glaciers advance, responding to climate change, while in another area or region they are stable or melting away?," Owen said.
Owen has found rocks in the Himalayas that range in age from just a few years to 4 million years old. He documents his 25 years of research in the March 15th edition of Quaternary Science Reviews.