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Dartmouth Engineering PhD Student Receives NASA Funding for Glacier Research

July 28, 2020

By Julie Bonette

Brita Horlings, an engineering PhD candidate at Dartmouth, has won support from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Future Investigators in NASA Earth and Space Science and Technology (FINESST) program. Horlings’ research investigates snow and firn (partially compacted granular snow) compaction for applications such as ice core studies, estimating volume storage for water resources, and glacier and ice-sheet contribution to sea-level rise. 

Brita Horlings
Engineering PhD candidate, Brita Horlings

“It is an incredible honor to be selected. For some time, I have been curious about integrating the capabilities of numerical approaches and lab experimentation to study snow and firn compaction, and the NASA FINESST fellowship will allow me to explore this,” said Horlings.

Horlings’ proposal, “Investigating Snow and Firn Compaction Through Two-Phase Flow Modeling and ‘French Press’ Experiments,” was one of 62 selected from more than 780 submissions for the FINESST program, which aims to support graduate student-designed and performed research projects that contribute to the Science Mission Directorate’s science, technology and exploration goals, according to NASA. 

FINESST awards research grants with a research mentor as the principal investigator and the graduate student as the “student participant.” Dartmouth engineering professor Colin Meyer, Horlings’ advisor, will serve as her research mentor. 

“Brita is doing exciting research investigating snow compaction on the surface of glaciers and ice sheets,” said Meyer. “Using a new experimentally-validated theory, Brita is challenging 40-year-old empiricism to provide a new model for the recently launched satellite ICESat-2 to measure changes in glacier mass and sea level rise.”

“It’s exciting and gratifying for me to work on a project that will hopefully be valuable for the broader cryospheric community,” said Horlings, who holds an MS in earth and space sciences from the University of Washington, Seattle, and a BS in geology from Portland State University.

Horlings’ FINESST award, which is part of NASA’s Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Sciences (ROSES) graduate student research program, includes $135,000 in funding.