Alumnus Toby Meierbachtol ’03 recently published his geological research on ice sheets in Greenland in the academic journal “Science.”

The article focuses on field work Meierbachtol completed in Greenland with a small team of graduate students, undergraduate students and professors. One member of this team was Associate Professor of Geosciences Joel Harper, a glaciologist at the University of Montana, Missoula, who inspired Meierbachtol to study the Chugach Mountains in Alaska for his master’s degree.

Meierbachtol and the rest of the researchers drilled 23 holes in the ice sheet, each half a mile long, in order to collect paleoclimatic records. They hope to determine the response of the subglacial drainage system to an increase in surface meltwater.

Meierbachtol is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Montana, Missoula, where he began graduate work two years after leaving Whitman with a B.A. in Geology. Before enrolling in a master’s program, he worked in Alta, Utah and travelled throughout South America.
Harper and Meierbachtol plan to complete one more research project in Greenland together. This time, the team will study ice deformation by looking at examples of deformation in the field.

Meierbachtol believes that his liberal arts education at Whitman gave him the problem-solving and communication skills that allowed him to succeed in graduate school and as a scientist.

“My liberal arts education at Whitman was invaluable in instilling critical thinking skills that I feel are essential for success. Math and physics are vital for the science that we do, but neither are useful if you can't establish the problem in the first place or convey the results and interpretation,” he said.

After he finishes his Ph.D. program, Meierbachtol hopes to find a private sector career or pursue further education somewhere in the Rocky Mountain west. Though he has no definite plans yet, he is optimistic about his prospects.

“My general modus operandi is to be focused on the present. I believe that doing good work in the present leads to opportunities in the future. This has worked well for me in the past.”