Glaciers are a big thing in the history of the world, both literally and figuratively, as the mammoth hunks of ice shaped much of our planet’s topography over the course of many long eons. Sadly, they’re slowly dying now, and if not for their namesake national park, few people in America would ever have any exposure to these gargantuan ice cubes.
To help your students get a better idea of how the late, great glaciers of ages past shaped our world and its landforms, we present this handy dandy Demo Science science demo. It’s totally cool! (sorrynotsorry)
Glaciers By the Gallon
For this experiment, you’ll need an empty gallon milk, a mix of sand and gravel, water, a scissor, and a big cookie sheet or other tray-style water-catching device. Combine the water, sand, and gravel in the milk jug and freeze it solid. (I guess, technically, you’ll need a freezer, too.)
Bring it into your classroom, then cut the milk jug off the block of ice. Plop the ice down on your water-catching tray and have your smelly young charges gather ‘round. Have them examine the structure of your “glacier” and its mixture of different elements. Discuss how a real-life glacier would have accumulated these contents. (The short version of which is “by slowly but steadily running over everything in its path and absorbing rocks and trees and stuff like that”.)
Then, leave the ice chunk sitting out somewhere in your classroom where it won’t be disturbed/be in the way, but where it’s also readily visible throughout the day as it melts. Check in on it as the day progresses to see how the melting of the ice affects other, non-melting materials in your glacier. (BTdubs—you’ll probably want to start this demo first thing in the morning.) Discuss what happens to the water and the sediments as the ice disappears.
Science is Cool! (sorrynotsorryagain)
This experiment shows exactly what it was like as the gigantic glaciers of old retreated to the poles. Exactly, I tell you!
That’s obviously not true, but it does let students see a scaled-down version of the water runoff and solid material deposition that glaciers left behind. The sand and gravel in your miniglacier will form tiny approximations of the hills and moraines the glaciers created, and the water shows how melting glaciers formed lakes and rivers.