Sierra Melton dreams of being on ice. The Penn State graduate student studies glaciers and hopes to travel to Antarctica one day to see her subjects first hand.
Her journey brought her to Penn State, where she is a first-year graduate student studying glaciology with her advisors Richard Alley and Sridhar Anandakrishnan.
"I've known for a long time I wanted to do some sort of science," Melton said. "I feel geoscience is a really good combination of what I love and something that's very meaningful to society."
Melton has been selected as one of the 2018-19 Earth and Environmental Systems Institute Environmental Scholars.
The scholarships are offered annually to graduate students to form connections between departments in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, and to increase student diversity.
Melton received her undergraduate degree at Colorado College in geology. She has a diverse background in geosciences thanks to a pair of summer undergraduate research experiences.
She worked at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute studying nitrogen cycling in tidally influenced rivers and estuaries. At North Carolina State University, she worked with remote sensing equipment to study soil erosion at active construction sites.
Along the way, Melton became interested in glaciology. The idea of studying a problem straight from the headlines – climate change and sea-level rise – appealed to her.
"I decided that I wanted to focus on issues that are happening right now," she said. "I also really decided that I would rather focus on the physics side and problems that can be looked at with remote sensing,"
Melton learned more about glaciology while studying abroad in Copenhagen, and her instructors there discussed research opportunities back in the United States.
"Some of my professors talked about the best places to study glaciology and they were talking about Penn State," she said. "So this was definitely one of the earliest places I heard about."
This semester, Melton is taking classes and reading papers to develop questions she can investigate further. In the future, she may have the opportunity to work on large project centering around the Thwaites glacier, part of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.
Her advisor, Anandakrishnan is principal investigator on a five-year, $4 million grant to study how quickly the massive glacier could collapse. The work is funded by the National Science Foundation and the United Kingdom's National Environmental Research Council.
"I feel like glaciology is a good mix of questions that really interest me and topics that really interest me that are relevant to society and something where I think I will enjoy the day-to-day work," Melton said